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CREDIT-CARD DATA STOLEN

Data apparently stolen from the popular clothing retailer Polo Ralph Lauren Corp. is forcing banks and credit card issuers to notify thousands of consumers that their credit-card information may have been exposed.

HSBC North America, a division of London-based HSBC Holdings PLC, has begun notifying holders of the HSBC-issued, General Motors-branded MasterCard that criminals may have obtained access to their credit card information and that the cards should be replaced.

HSBC spokesman Stephen E. Cohen said Thursday that "we began doing it last week, and we are continuing."

He said that about 180,000 GM-branded card holders are affected.

Neither Cohen nor spokesmen for MasterCard International would identify the retailer by name.

The security breach was reported in Thursday's editions of The Wall Street Journal, which quoted "people with knowledge of the matter" as saying the data was stolen at Polo Ralph Lauren.