An investigation into data brokerage companies is building up after an alleged ID thief was charged with 15 counts including identity fraud.
Identity theft has been a growing concern for many Americans. A study conducted by Javelin Strategy & Research said that in 2012, there were 12.6 million victims of identify theft. This is a 1 million increase from 2011. The report also said that more than $21 billion was stolen from the victims over the course of the year. Experts are concerned that the rash of ID thefts are attributed to data brokers handling public information.
How data brokers work
Data broker companies acquire consumer information from public records and publicly available info. These companies will then resell information for a profit. For instance, credit bureau Experian reported a revenue of $4.73 billion for its 2013 fiscal year. But Experian is in hot water after one of its subsidiaries sold delicate information to an alleged identity thief.
Recent theft activity
The alleged scam involved the theft of information of 500,000 Americans. KrebsOnSecurity.com reported the alleged sale of sensitive information was sold to administrators in Vietnam by Court Ventures. Court Ventures, which resells electronic public records, was purchased by Experian in 2012.
Court Ventures, which signed a data-sharing pact with U.S. Info Search, was reselling information to an illegal third party. The company Court Ventures sold to, Superget.info, was discovered to be made up of Vietnam-based hackers. This recent event has created concern among Washington officials.
The Department of Justice issued an indictment against Superget.info administrator Hieu Minh Ngo in November 2012. Ngo is charged with 15 counts including identity fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy. Although Ngo was arrested in February 2013, the documents recently became unsealed for public information of Oct. 18.
Washington officials keeping close eye on data companies
Experian and other data gathering sites have been under the microscope of Washington officials as of late. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, who is the head of the Senate Committee of Commerce, Science and Transportation, began investigating the procedures of nine data broker firms in 2012. The committee was investigating how these sites garner their information. The committee recently sent a letter of concern to Experian and its Chief Executive Donald Robert.
"The committee's investigation has focused to date on how companies including Experian collect and sell consumer information for marketing purposes, while the information Experian reportedly sold to identity thieves – such as Social Security numbers and banking information – appears to be data Experian collects and sells for risk assessment activities," the letter stated. "However, if these recent news accounts are accurate, they raise serious questions about whether Experian as a company has appropriate practices in place for vetting its customers and sharing sensitive consumer data with them, regardless of the particular line of business."
Working with the investigation
Experian spokesperson Gerry Tschopp said that they have been working closely with investigators.
"After the acquisition, the U.S. Secret Service notified Experian that Court Ventures had been and was reselling data from U.S. Info Search to a third party that the U.S. Secret Service was investigating as possibly engaged in illegal activity," Tschopp said. "Following the notice by the U.S. Secret Service, Experian discontinued reselling U.S. Info Search data and worked closely and in full cooperation with law enforcement to bring Vietnamese national Hieu Minh Ngo, the alleged perpetrator, to justice."
Rockefeller reiterated that it is important for Americans to know how their information is being shared.
"While some consumers may not object to having their information categorized and used for marketing, before they share personal information, it is important that they know it may be used for purposes beyond those for which they originally provided it," Rockefeller said.