Identity Theft

Consumers’ Credit Reports Hacked in 2011 Breach

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Last year, a hacking attack compromised the computer systems for the relatively small Abilene Telco Federal Credit Union in Texas, but the fallout was far more considerable than was originally thought.

The data breach not only compromised customers’ account data, but also uncovered the bank’s login data with the credit monitoring bureau Experian, according to a report from Bloomberg News. As a result, the hackers had access to the company’s records and were able download a wealth of personal information for 847 people, including their Social Security numbers, birthdates and in-depth financial details, despite the fact that they had never done business with ATFCU.

But this approach by hackers isn’t new, the report said. In all, more than 17,000 such consumer credit records have been accessed through these attacks against all three credit bureaus since 2006, though the issue could be far more widespread. Most of the data uncovered in an investigation into the issue came through public records requests in just six states (Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina and Vermont). In all, Experian was hit 80 times for a total of 15,500 compromised records, with Equifax and TransUnion trailing well behind at 1,200 and 500, respectively.

“We continue to invest in the security systems we have in place to protect our clients and consumers,” Gerry Tschopp, a spokesman for Experian, said in an e-mailed statement. “Of course, the first line of defense lies with end users who are obligated to manage and protect their credentials, which in all these instances were compromised through malware that infected their hardware and other illegal means.”

Currently, the major credit bureaus are under investigation by both houses of the U.S. Congress because of the amount of data they collect, the security procedures they have in place to protect it, and how that information is ultimately used, the report said. This may be especially important to guarding against identity theft because a credit report contains so much vital information needed to commit the crime.

It’s generally recommended that consumers take all precautions to order copies of their credit report as many times a year as possible to make sure there are no accounts erroneously listed in their name, which may be an indicator of identity theft.

Image: Davide Restivo, via Flickr

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