AG Coakley Investigates Potential Data Breach Involving Major Credit Reporting Company; Issues Consumer Advisory
Breach At Experian and U.S. Info Search Could Affect More Than 200 Million People Across the Country
BOSTON – Following reports that criminals were able to gain access to a commercial database that contained the personal information, including social security numbers, of more than 200 million U.S. citizens, Attorney General Martha Coakley, along with attorneys general across the country, have opened an investigation into the data broker U.S. Info Search and the credit reporting company Experian.
“Allegations that companies have allowed criminals to purchase personal information of consumers are extremely troubling,” AG Coakley said. “We are especially concerned about allegations that the companies may have known of this incident for over a year, while not reporting it so consumer could protect themselves. We will actively investigate this matter and in the meantime, we remind consumers to take proactive steps to protect their personal information.”
On March 3, Hieu Ngo, a Vietnamese national, pleaded guilty to federal charges in New Hampshire federal court involving his operation of a website that offered his clients access to sensitive personal information for more than 200 million U.S. citizens, including social security numbers, which could be used to commit identity theft or financial fraud.
According to a federal prosecutor, Ngo gained access to the personal information when he obtained an account with a U.S. company known as Court Ventures by posing as a private investigator from Singapore. Due to a reciprocal data sharing agreement between Court Ventures and U.S. Info Search, LLC of Columbus, Ohio, Ngo’s account allowed him access to a database that allegedly contained names, addresses, dates of births, and social security numbers of more than 200 million U.S. citizens.
Furthermore, according to the federal prosecutor, Ngo may have resold access to his Court Ventures account through his website to over 1,300 people. For at least an 18-month period, more than 3.1 million queries were made to the database using Ngo’s account. According to Experian, it purchased Court Ventures’ assets in March 2012, and continued to honor Ngo as a customer until December 2012.
The extent of the breach is not currently known and Experian has represented that its credit card databases were not impacted or accessed in this incident.
The AG’s Office has been in contact with both Experian and U.S. Info Search to review the circumstances of the breach and intends to determine whether both companies had proper safeguards in place to protect consumers’ personal information from unauthorized use or disclosure, and to ensure that the companies take all steps necessary to protect consumers from this breach.
The AG’s Office offers consumers the following information on how to guard themselves from potential identity theft:
- Order a copy of your credit report, and look for unauthorized activity;
- If there is unexplained activity on your credit report, place an extended fraud alert on your credit report;
- Review and monitor your credit and debit card information;
- If you believe you are the victim of identity theft, promptly file and obtain a police report from your local police department;
- Consider placing a “security freeze” on your credit report by written request to each of the three credit bureaus to prohibit the release of any information from your report without your written authorization;
- Contact the fraud departments of your credit card issuers or bank if you suspect fraudulent activity on your credit or debit cards; and
- For further steps to protect themselves, consumers may contact the Attorney General's consumer hotline at (617) 727-8400, review identity theft protection tips at the AG’s website or view the Federal Trade Commission's identity theft resource, available at www.consumer.gov/idtheft/.