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By George White




A few days ago, Korea experienced the biggest security breach of identity theft in its history.  Almost 15 million customers and 110 million credit cards became vulnerable when a technician working for company designed to protect customers from fraudulent credit card purchases, loaded the data onto portable hard drives then sold it.  The Financial Supervisory Service launched a full investigation to determine the extent of the damage and released a press release on January 20, 2014.  It can be obtained by visiting their site www.fss.or.kr, clicking English at the top, then clicking the link titled, “Guidelines for Customers Whose Personal Information Were Stolen.”  The first line addresses the concern of many, which is how much information was stolen.  “The chance of copying credit cards is very slim, as passwords and card validation codes (CVC) were not stolen.”  A PDF is also available for download, in English, which details further steps that can be taken to pacify any anxiety and prevent any further potential damage.



Most people found out about the incident via news reports or word of mouth.  They headed straight to the bank and addressed the issue.  But foreigners weren’t as fortunate.  Bobby McGill at Busan Haps revealed that many expats were treated poorly because of a lack of non-Korean information.  He highlights a quote from, NongHyup, one of the banks involved.  “We feel sorry but we don’t have any additional measure only for foreigners,” an official from NH NongHyup Card said. “But we will consider sending a letter or e-mail to foreign card holders soon, after we figure out how many foreign customers’ information was leaked.”  This seemed offensive, xenophobic, and even racist to many expats.  Their argument is that Koreans were notified yet foreigners barely get a consideration.  Bobby continues that nearly a million foreign customers were affected and “Nonghyup bank said they will ‘consider’ informing foreign customers.”  But this incident reveals more than just the inefficiencies of Korean banks at preventing and handling major crisis; it reveals the entitlement that we feel as foreigners living in another country.

The entire argument is based on institutional racism, unequal treatment of foreigners and Koreans but this is fundamentally flawed when the entire situation is examined more closely.  Koreans were not notified via email either.  The offer to email foreign customers seems redundant and primarily apologetic since the FSS already outlined measures to safeguard their accounts.  The misrepresentation of the quote overshadows the original picture of this story which is mentioned in the first sentence as a caption under the picture; “Foreign customers at Korean banks are being stranded with a lack of non-Korean information and no advice on possible compensation…”  This is an issue about communication and language not xenophobia or racism.  Non-Korean speaking foreigners felt stranded because no one could explain options, give advice, or point them in the right direction.  It’s frightening to live in another country without speaking the language because scary things like this can happen.  The easiest solution is to learn the language (or bring a Korean speaking friend to help).  The scenario would look drastically different if the foreigner asked questions or for assistance in Korean because he/she would have been addressed instead of being ignored or marginalized.  

Another argument is that the lack of notification in another language depends exclusively on the language of the person complaining.  So, a native English speaker complains about the lack of English notifications.  A Chinese speaker complains about the lack of Chinese notification.  And so on.  First, the banks shouldn’t have to notify non-Korean speaking customers if they didn’t even notify Korean speaking customers.  Second, should they have to notify every foreign speaking customer in their native language?  No, that would be a ridiculous waste of time and resources.  And third, as the article stated, non-Korean information was not available.  There is a huge difference between notifications and availability of information.  The article was published a day after the FSS press release so information was available; it probably just wasn’t relayed to non-Korean speaking foreigners at the banks.  So, the non-Korean speaking foreigner felt stranded, marginalized, and offended.  



This is not institutional racism or xenophobia; it is a perfect example of poor infrastructure and logistics, and a lack of proactive culpability.  Institutional racism, racism in general, and xenophobia look like HO BAR (you have to have spent time in Korea to know that one) putting up signs prohibiting foreigners to enter.  It is being denied service as soon as a foreigner walks into a restaurant, despite Korean speaking abilities.  It is hearing obscene Korean remarks and whispers when dating a Korean.  That is racism and xenophobia.  This banking incident is a lack of preparedness and security.

In my opinion, even well-meaning articles like the one from Busan Haps and other publications create vitriol and angst.  These publications seem more interested in sensationalism instead of solutions.  Instead, they should spread the content or the link to the FSS press release.    If they are offended that banks are only “considering” notifying their English speaking foreign customers, which is a pathetically attempted apology, then they should use their collective voice to direct those customers in the right direction.  Whining and crying about perceived slights creates the problem instead of rectifying something that doesn’t exist.


Busan Haps –  Little Help for Foreigners as Korea`s Largest Ever Data Theft Possibly Affects a Million Expats

FSS Announcement


*(Editor’s Note –  KB was unaware that Busan Haps used an article from the Korea Times as a source for most of its information.  The articles are nearly identical and in my opinion mitigate any claims of sensationalism.  Perception plays a big role in how we attempt to determine the motivation of authors and publications.  It’s ironic that many perceived Busan Haps as sensationalizing a story that came directly from the Korean Press.  My apologies to Busan Haps. )