Massive U.S. credit bureau data breach has experts worried

by: Catherine Bilkey Updated:

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The North Carolina Attorney General's Office is now joining other states investigating a massive data breach at a credit reporting agency that has put 200 million Social Security numbers at risk.

State justice officials told Channel 9 they are concerned about how many residents could fall victim to identity theft because of the breach uncovered at Experian.

Investigators said sometime before March 2012, a Vietnamese man named Hieu Minh Ngo used a false identity to purchase Social Security numbers with a database called Court Ventures, and then sold that information on the international black market.

Experian purchased Court Ventures in 2012, but it is unclear when Experian officials became aware of the breach, and now members of Congress and authorities in multiple states are demanding to know whether Experian and Court Ventures took steps to protect consumer information and if they notified potential victims.

"Experian and Court Ventures are each pointing a finger at the other company, saying they have to notify their customers. Meanwhile the consumer is left the odd person out with all of their vital information exposed," said financial crimes expert Chris Swecker.

Swecker, a former FBI agent, told Channel 9 the breach encompasses more information than just the 200 million SSNs. He said consumer addresses, vital information and credit-history reports are also at risk.

"From a consumer perspective, this is your worst nightmare. This is what every bad guy wants to get their hands on," Swecker said.

Officials at Charlotte's Better Business Bureau are also warning victims of the 2013 data breaches at Target and the South Carolina Department of Revenue. Both offered free credit monitoring from Experian to victims of the breaches -- and officials said those victims could be exposed once again.

"The people that have signed up for credit monitoring service with them could be unwitting victims, and even more prominent victims," said BBB President Tom Bartholomy.

Target customer Bert Lampley had his entire bank account wiped out by a criminal in December. Just after the holiday season, he got back on his feet. But now he's worried he could be cleaned out again. Like other Target customers, he used Experian credit monitoring after their massive breach for protection against thieves.

“They're somehow going to get what they're after,” Lampley said. “We just have to be vigilant, and we have been and I was. But to learn today that all that vigilance didn't pay off, I'm just floored.”

Experts said consumers should be monitoring their bank and credit card statements daily, and can sign up for credit monitoring alerts through private companies like LifeLock.

The BBB also suggests contacting the other two credit reporting agencies, TransUnion and Equifax, to request that a fraud alert be placed on your individual information, but warns it could cause other difficulties.

"It will basically freeze your credit, so If you want to apply for credit card, a mortgage, or car loan, it's going to make it more difficult," Bartholomy said.