Federal prosecutors yesterday said they have charged 11 individuals allegedly involved in the hacking of nine major U.S. retailers and the theft and sale of more than 40 million credit and debit card numbers. In the words of U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, this is Ã¢â‚¬Å“the single largest and most complex identity theft case ever charged in this countryÃ¢â‚¬ . The case underscores not only the increasing vulnerability of individuals to identity theft, but also the potential liability faced by companies when a breach in data security occurs. The retailers targeted included: TJX Companies, BJÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Wholesale Club, OfficeMax, Boston Market, Barnes & Noble, Sports Authority, Forever 21 and DSW. The perpetrators used sophisticated computer hacking techniques, breaching security systems and installing programs that gathered enormous quantities of personal financial data, which they allegedly sold to others or used themselves. In total they caused widespread losses to banks, retailers and consumers. A risk survey conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit and sponsored by ACE European Group (ACE) last year found that one in three global businesses see loss of data as a significant threat. A trend to monitor.