Coakley investigates widespread data breach

As a result of a potential widespread data breach in March, Massachusetts Attorney Gen. Martha Coakley launched an investigation Tuesday into data broker company U.S. Info Search and credit reporting company Experian.

Several criminals have reportedly been able to access a commercial database containing personal information, including social security numbers and credit card numbers, of over 200 million U.S. citizens.

“Allegations that companies have allowed criminals to purchase personal information of consumers are extremely troubling,” Coakley said in the release. “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.”

On March 3 in a New Hampshire federal court, Hieu Ngo, a Vietnamese national, pleaded guilty to accessing the personal information of U.S. citizens and offering clients the information on his website, according to the Tuesday release.

Ngo accessed people’s personal information through a company called Court Ventures, which had a data sharing agreement with U.S. Info Search. When Experian purchased Court Ventures’ assets in March 2012, they allowed him to stay on as a customer until December, stated the Tuesday press release.

“Ngo may have resold access to his Court Ventures account through his website to over 1,300 people,” stated the release. “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.”

Coakley has gotten in contact with Experian and U.S. Info Search to review the situation and make sure they do what they can to protect customers’ information.

Several attorneys general from other states, including Connecticut and Illinois, have also opened similar investigations into both U.S. Info Search and Experian. Communications directors at those attorney general offices declined to comment since the investigation is ongoing.

In response to the allegations, Susan Henson, vice president of public relations at Experian, said Experian will assist in the investigation to get to the root of the problem.

“While this is an unfortunate and isolated issue, Experian has devoted its full attention to the matter and continues to fully cooperate with investigators to uncover the facts,” she said in an e-mail Wednesday. “We look forward to addressing this issue through proper legal channels.”

U.S. Info Share was not available to comment at this time.

Several residents said they appreciate Coakley’s efforts to look into the extent of the data breach and to prevent something similar from happening in the future.

Ann Hall, 56, of Dorchester, said she feels concerned about her own personal information.

“You see something like this on the news and people are already doing it,” she said.

“They’re intelligent enough to know what to do. I hope people [like Ngo] get caught. It’s not right and I hope they put an end to it as soon as possible.”

Tom Grochowski, 23, of Allston, said he has found himself in a situation where the safety of his social security information was in jeopardy.

“I applied for a job … when I went for the interview, I found out [the company] was not legitimate at all,” he said. “Fortunately things turned out fine, but I was very worried and scared. [Coakley] has every right to go through with this investigation and it’s a great thing she’s doing.”

Jen Moran, 22, of Allston, said she is mindful about how much of her information she shares, especially on the Internet and in other digital formats.

“It’s comforting that [Coakley] has our backs looking into this and making sure we’re safe,” she said. “It’s really unsettling that a lot of people [who] felt safe [were] taken of advantage of. I am disappointed in people who do this and don’t understand the desire to do so.”

 

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