Experian Breach Fallout: ID Theft Nightmares Continue

Data brokers amassing gigantic data stores of people's valuable personal information are too big to not fail. Why are consumers getting stuck with the mess?
Will Experian take these next steps -- sending notifications to affected consumers and providing free, third-party ID theft monitoring -- and if so, in what timeframe? I emailed those questions to a company spokesman Thursday, but haven't heard back yet (and will update this story when I do).

Regardless of how Experian responds, here are a few takeaways for consumers who want to avoid, through no fault of their own, becoming ID theft victims: "Maybe you can make your readers aware of the importance of maintaining online accounts for credit cards, even just so no one else steps in," said Ann. "In addition, I found my 'new' address and phone in online searches for myself at phone listing companies, which obviously cull the credit bureau websites."

Since consumers now have the right to see one credit report per year from each of the three big credit reporting firms -- Equifax, Experian (them again) and TransUnion -- one useful technique is to order one report from a different bureau every four months.

While the suspect in his case, Ngo, is brought to justice, what of Experian's role here? As Ashkan Soltani, an independent privacy and security researcher who formerly worked with the Federal Trade Commission, said about the Court Ventures debacle, it's yet "another example of how data brokers expose consumers to unnecessary risk."

On that front, FTC chairwoman Edith Ramirez has called on Congress to give the agency more power to ensure that data brokers' buying and selling of people's personal information doesn't infringe on consumers' interests. "The time has come for businesses to move their data collection and use practices out of the shadows and into the sunlight," Ramirez said in a keynote speech at the Technology Policy Institute's Aspen Forum in August. "In other words, with big data comes big responsibility. Firms that acquire and maintain large sets of consumer data must be responsible stewards of that information."

Perhaps the information sold by Court Ventures to the alleged Vietnamese ID-theft-as-a-service providers will include copious amounts of personal information on members of Congress, as well as their staff. Of course, that will be bad luck for them. But as they -- like Ann -- invest their own time, energy and money into attempting to clean up the resulting mess, maybe it will drive Congress to empower the FTC to hold data brokers accountable as they amass ever-increasing amounts of our personal data.

In the meantime, keep a close eye on your credit reports, bank statements and credit card statements.