Posts Tagged: TransUnion


21
Sep 18

Credit Freezes are Free: Let the Ice Age Begin

It is now free in every U.S. state to freeze and unfreeze your credit file and that of your dependents, a process that blocks identity thieves and others from looking at private details in your consumer credit history. If you’ve been holding out because you’re not particularly worried about ID theft, here’s another reason to reconsider: The credit bureaus profit from selling copies of your file to others, so freezing your file also lets you deny these dinosaurs a valuable revenue stream.

Enacted in May 2018, the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act rolls back some of the restrictions placed on banks in the wake of the Great Recession of the last decade. But it also includes a silver lining. Previously, states allowed the bureaus to charge a confusing range of fees for placing, temporarily thawing or lifting a credit freeze. Today, those fees no longer exist.

A security freeze essentially blocks any potential creditors from being able to view or “pull” your credit file, unless you affirmatively unfreeze or thaw your file beforehand. With a freeze in place on your credit file, ID thieves can apply for credit in your name all they want, but they will not succeed in getting new lines of credit in your name because few if any creditors will extend that credit without first being able to gauge how risky it is to loan to you (i.e., view your credit file).

And because each credit inquiry caused by a creditor has the potential to lower your credit score, the freeze also helps protect your score, which is what most lenders use to decide whether to grant you credit when you truly do want it and apply for it.

To file a freeze, consumers must contact each of the three major credit bureaus online, by phone or by mail. Here’s the updated contact information for the big three:

Online: Equifax Freeze Page
By phone: 800-685-1111
By Mail: Equifax Security Freeze
P.O. Box 105788
Atlanta, Georgia 30348-5788

Online: Experian
By phone: 888-397-3742
By Mail: Experian Security Freeze
P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013

Online: TransUnion
By Phone: 888-909-8872
By Mail: TransUnion LLC
P.O. Box 2000 Chester, PA 19016

Spouses may request freezes for each other by phone as long as they pass authentication.

The new law also makes it free to place, thaw and lift freezes for dependents under the age of 16, or for incapacitated adult family members. However, this process is not currently available online or by phone, as it requires parents/guardians to submit written documentation (“sufficient proof of authority”), such as a copy of a birth certificate and copy of a Social Security card issued by the Social Security Administration, or — in the case of an incapacitated family member — proof of power of attorney.

In addition, the law requires the big three bureaus to offer free electronic credit monitoring services to all active duty military personnel. It also changes the rules for “fraud alerts,” which currently are free but only last for 90 days. With a fraud alert on your credit file, lenders or service providers should not grant credit in your name without first contacting you to obtain your approval — by phone or whatever other method you specify when you apply for the fraud alert.

Another important change: Fraud alerts now last for one year (previously they lasted just 90 days) but consumers can renew them each year. Bear in mind, however, that while lenders and service providers are supposed to seek and obtain your approval before granting credit in your name if you have a fraud alert on your file, they’re not legally required to do this. Continue reading →


10
Sep 18

In a Few Days, Credit Freezes Will Be Fee-Free

Later this month, all of the three major consumer credit bureaus will be required to offer free credit freezes to all Americans and their dependents. Maybe you’ve been holding off freezing your credit file because your home state currently charges a fee for placing or thawing a credit freeze, or because you believe it’s just not worth the hassle. If that accurately describes your views on the matter, this post may well change your mind.

A credit freeze — also known as a “security freeze” — restricts access to your credit file, making it far more difficult for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name.

Currently, many states allow the big three bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — to charge a fee for placing or lifting a security freeze. But thanks to a federal law enacted earlier this year, after Sept. 21, 2018 it will be free to freeze and unfreeze your credit file and those of your children or dependents throughout the United States.

KrebsOnSecurity has for many years urged readers to freeze their files with the big three bureaus, as well as with a distant fourth — Innovis — and the NCTUE, an Equifax-operated credit checking clearinghouse relied upon by most of the major mobile phone providers.

There are dozens of private companies that specialize in providing consumer credit reports and scores to specific industries, including real estate brokers, landlords, insurers, debt buyers, employers, banks, casinos and retail stores. A handy PDF produced earlier this year by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) lists all of the known entities that maintain, sell or share credit data on U.S. citizens.

The CFPB’s document includes links to Web sites for 46 different consumer credit reporting entities, along with information about your legal rights to obtain data in your reports and dispute suspected inaccuracies with the companies as needed. My guess is the vast majority of Americans have never heard of most of these companies.

Via numerous front-end Web sites, each of these mini credit bureaus serve thousands or tens of thousands of people who work in the above mentioned industries and who have the ability to pull credit and other personal data on Americans. In many cases, online access to look up data through these companies is secured by nothing more than a username and password that can be stolen or phished by cybercrooks and abused to pull privileged information on consumers.

In other cases, it’s trivial for anyone to sign up for these services. For example, how do companies that provide background screening and credit report data to landlords decide who can sign up as a landlord? Answer: Anyone can be a landlord (or pretend to be one).

SCORE ONE FOR FREEZES

The truly scary part? Access to some of these credit lookup services is supposed to be secured behind a login page, but often isn’t. Consider the service pictured below, which for $44 will let anyone look up the credit score of any American who hasn’t already frozen their credit files with the big three. Worse yet, you don’t even need to have accurate information on a target — such as their Social Security number or current address.

KrebsOnSecurity was made aware of this particular portal by Alex Holden, CEO of Milwaukee, Wisc.-based cybersecurity firm Hold Security LLC [full disclosure: This author is listed as an adviser to Hold Security, however this is and always has been a volunteer role for which I have not been compensated].

Holden’s wife Lisa is a mortgage broker, and as such she has access to a more full-featured version of the above-pictured consumer data lookup service (among others) for the purposes of helping clients determine a range of mortgage rates available. Mrs. Holden said the version of this service that she has access to will return accurate, current and complete credit file information on consumers even if one enters a made-up SSN and old address on an individual who hasn’t yet frozen their credit files with the big three.

“I’ve noticed in the past when I do a hard pull on someone’s credit report and the buyer gave me the wrong SSN or transposed some digits, not only will these services give me their credit report and full account history, it also tells you what their correct SSN is,” Mrs. Holden said.

With Mr. Holden’s permission, I gave the site pictured above an old street address for him plus a made-up SSN, and provided my credit card number to pay for the report. The document generated by that request said TransUnion and Experian were unable to look up his credit score with the information provided. However, Equifax not only provided his current credit score, it helpfully corrected the false data I entered for Holden, providing the last four digits of his real SSN and current address.

“We assume our credit report is keyed off of our SSN or something unique about ourselves,” Mrs. Holden said. “But it’s really keyed off your White Pages information, meaning anyone can get your credit report if they are in the know.”

I was pleased to find that I was unable to pull my own credit score through this exposed online service, although the site still charged me $44. The report produced simply said the consumer in question had requested that access to this information be restricted. But the real reason was simply that I’ve had my credit file frozen for years now.

Many media outlets are publishing stories this week about the one-year anniversary of the breach at Equifax that exposed the personal and financial data on more than 147 million people. But it’s important for everyone to remember that as bad as the Equifax breach was (and it was a total dumpster fire all around), most of the consumer data exposed in the breach has been for sale in the cybercrime underground for many years on a majority of Americans — including access to consumer credit reports. If anything, the Equifax breach may have simply helped ID thieves refresh some of those criminal data stores.

It costs $35 worth of bitcoin through this cybercrime service to pull someone’s credit file from the three major credit bureaus. There are many services just like this one, which almost certainly abuse hacked accounts from various industries that have “legitimate” access to consumer credit reports.

Continue reading →


11
Mar 18

Checked Your Credit Since the Equifax Hack?

A recent consumer survey suggests that half of all Americans still haven’t checked their credit report since the Equifax breach last year exposed the Social Security numbers, dates of birth, addresses and other personal information on nearly 150 million people. If you’re in that fifty percent, please make an effort to remedy that soon.

Credit reports from the three major bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — can be obtained online for free at annualcreditreport.com — the only Web site mandated by Congress to serve each American a free credit report every year.

Annualcreditreport.com is run by a Florida-based company, but its data is supplied by the major credit bureaus, which struggled mightily to meet consumer demand for free credit reports in the immediate aftermath of the Equifax breach. Personally, I was unable to order a credit report for either me or my wife even two weeks after the Equifax breach went public: The site just kept returning errors and telling us to request the reports in writing via the U.S. Mail.

Based on thousands of comments left here in the days following the Equifax breach disclosure, I suspect many readers experienced the same but forgot to come back and try again. If this describes you, please take a moment this week to order your report(s) (and perhaps your spouse’s) and see if anything looks amiss. If you spot an error or something suspicious, contact the bureau that produced the report to correct the record immediately.

Of course, keeping on top of your credit report requires discipline, and if you’re not taking advantage of all three free reports each year you need to get a plan. My strategy is to put a reminder on our calendar to order a new report every four months or so, each time from a different credit bureau. Continue reading →


20
Sep 17

Equifax Breach: Setting the Record Straight

Bloomberg published a story this week citing three unnamed sources who told the publication that Equifax experienced a breach earlier this year which predated the intrusion that the big-three credit bureau announced on Sept. 7. To be clear, this earlier breach at Equifax is not a new finding and has been a matter of public record for months. Furthermore, it was first reported on this Web site in May 2017.

equihaxIn my initial Sept. 7 story about the Equifax breach affecting more than 140 million Americans, I noted that this was hardly the first time Equifax or another major credit bureau has experienced a breach impacting a significant number of Americans.

On May 17, KrebsOnSecurity reported that fraudsters exploited lax security at Equifax’s TALX payroll division, which provides online payroll, HR and tax services.

That story was about how Equifax’s TALX division let customers who use the firm’s payroll management services authenticate to the service with little more than a 4-digit personal identification number (PIN).

Identity thieves who specialize in perpetrating tax refund fraud figured out that they could reset the PINs of payroll managers at various companies just by answering some multiple-guess questions — known as “knowledge-based authentication” or KBA questions — such as previous addresses and dates that past home or car loans were granted.

On Tuesday, Sept. 18, Bloomberg ran a piece with reporting from no fewer than five journalists there who relied on information provided by three anonymous sources. Those sources reportedly spoke in broad terms about an earlier breach at Equifax, and told the publication that these two incidents were thought to have been perpetrated by the same group of hackers.

The Bloomberg story did not name TALX. Only post-publication did Bloomberg reporters update the piece to include a statement from Equifax saying the breach was unrelated to the hack announced on Sept. 7, and that it had to do with a security incident involving a payroll-related service during the 2016 tax year.

I have thus far seen zero evidence that these two incidents are related. Equifax has said the unauthorized access to customers’ employee tax records (we’ll call this “the March breach” from here on) happened between April 17, 2016 and March 29, 2017.

The criminals responsible for unauthorized activity in the March breach were participating in an insidious but common form of cybercrime known as tax refund fraud, which involves filing phony tax refund requests with the IRS and state tax authorities using the personal information from identity theft victims.

My original report on the March breach was based on public breach disclosures that Equifax was required by law to file with several state attorneys general.

Because the TALX incident exposed the tax and payroll records of its customers’ employees, the victim customers were in turn required to notify their employees as well. That story referenced public breach disclosures from five companies that used TALX, including defense contractor giant Northrop Grumman; staffing firm Allegis GroupSaint-Gobain Corp.; Erickson Living; and the University of Louisville.

When asked Tuesday about previous media coverage of the March breach, Equifax pointed National Public Radio (NPR) to coverage in KrebsonSecurity.

One more thing before I move on to the analysis. For more information on why KBA is a woefully ineffective method of stopping fraudsters, see this story from 2013 about how some of the biggest vendors of these KBA questions were all hacked by criminals running an identity theft service online.

Or, check out these stories about how tax refund fraudsters used weak KBA questions to steal personal data on hundreds of thousands of taxpayers directly from the Internal Revenue Service‘s own Web site. It’s probably worth mentioning that Equifax provided those KBA questions as well.

ANALYSIS

Over the past two weeks, KrebsOnSecurity has received an unusually large number of inquiries from reporters at major publications who were seeking background interviews so that they could get up to speed on Equifax’s spotty security history (sadly, Bloomberg was not among them).

These informational interviews — in which I agree to provide context and am asked to speak mainly on background — are not unusual; I sometimes field two or three of these requests a month, and very often more when time permits. And for the most part I am always happy to help fellow journalists make sure they get the facts straight before publishing them.

But I do find it slightly disturbing that there appear to be so many reporters on the tech and security beats who apparently lack basic knowledge about what these companies do and their roles in perpetuating — not fighting — identity theft.

It seems to me that some of the world’s most influential publications have for too long given Equifax and the rest of the credit reporting industry a free pass — perhaps because of the complexities involved in succinctly explaining the issues to consumers. Indeed, I would argue the mainstream media has largely failed to hold these companies’ feet to the fire over a pattern of lax security and a complete disregard for securing the very sensitive consumer data that drives their core businesses.

To be sure, Equifax has dug themselves into a giant public relations hole, and they just keep right on digging. On Sept. 8, I published a story equating Equifax’s breach response to a dumpster fire, noting that it could hardly have been more haphazard and ill-conceived.

But I couldn’t have been more wrong. Since then, Equifax’s response to this incident has been even more astonishingly poor.

EQUIPHISH

On Tuesday, the official Equifax account on Twitter replied to a tweet requesting the Web address of the site that the company set up to give away its free one-year of credit monitoring service. That site is https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com, but the company’s Twitter account told users to instead visit securityequifax2017[dot]com, which is currently blocked by multiple browsers as a phishing site.

equiphish

Continue reading →


19
Mar 14

Are Credit Monitoring Services Worth It?

In the wake of one data breach after another, millions of Americans each year are offered credit monitoring services that promise to shield them from identity thieves. Although these services can help true victims step out from beneath the shadow of ID theft, the sad truth is that most services offer little in the way of real preventative protection against the fastest-growing crime in America.

Experian 'protection' offered for Target victims.

Experian ‘protection’ offered for Target victims.

Having purchased credit monitoring/protection services for the past 24 months — and having been the target of multiple identity theft attempts — I feel somewhat qualified to share my experience with readers. The biggest takeaway for me has been that although these services may alert you when someone opens or attempts to open a new line of credit in your name, most will do little — if anything — to block that activity. My take: If you’re being offered free monitoring, it probably can’t hurt to sign up, but you shouldn’t expect the service to stop identity thieves from ruining your credit.

Avivah Litan, a fraud analyst at Gartner Inc., said offering credit monitoring has become the de facto public response for companies that experience a data breach, whether or not that breach resulted in the loss of personal information that could lead to actual identity theft (as opposed to mere credit card fraud).

“These are basically PR vehicles for most of the breached companies who offer credit report monitoring to potentially compromised consumers,” Litan said. “Breached companies such as Target like to offer it as a good PR move even though it does absolutely nothing to compensate for the fact that a criminal stole credit card mag stripe account data. My advice for consumers has been – sure get it for free from one of the companies where your data has been compromised (and surely these days there is at least one).  But don’t expect it to help much – by the time you get the alert, it’s too late, the damage has been done.  It just shortens the time to detection so you may have a slightly improved chance of cleaning up the damage faster.  And you can get your credit reports three times a year from the government website for free which is almost just as good so why pay for it ever?”

FRAUD ALERT BREAKDOWN

Normally, I place fraud alerts on my credit file every 90 days, as allowed by law. This step is supposed to require potential creditors to contact you and obtain your permission before opening new lines of credit in your name. You merely need to file a fraud alert (also called a “security alert”) with one of the credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian or Trans Union). Whichever one you file with is required by law to alert the other two bureaus as well.

Most consumers don’t know this (few consumers know the names of the three main credit bureaus), but there is actually a fourth credit bureau that you should alert: Innovis. This bureau follows the same rules as the big three, and you may file a fraud alert with them at this link.

Fraud alerts last 90 days, and you can renew them as often as you like (a recurring calendar entry can help with this task); consumers who can demonstrate that they are victims or are likely to be victims of identity theft can apply for a long-term fraud alert that lasts up to 7 years (a police report and other documentation may be required).

Continue reading →


13
Mar 13

Credit Reports Sold for Cheap in the Underweb

Following the online publication of Social Security numbers and other sensitive data on high-profile Americans, the three major credit reporting bureaus say they’ve uncovered cases where hackers gained access to users’ information, Bloomberg reports. The disclosure, while probably discomforting for many, offers but a glimpse of the sensitive data available to denizens of the cybercrime underworld, which hosts several storefronts that sell cheap, illegal access to consumer credit reports.

mueller

Redacted screen shot of leaked records.

The acknowledgement by Experian, Equifax and Trans Union comes hours after hackers posted online Social Security numbers and other sensitive data on FBI Director Robert Muller, First Lady Michelle Obama, Paris Hilton and others.

Sadly, Social Security numbers and even credit reports are not difficult to find using inexpensive services advertised openly in several cybercrime forums. In most cases, these services are open to all comers; the only limitation is knowing the site’s current Web address (such sites tend to move frequently) and being able to fund an account with a virtual currency, such as WebMoney or Liberty Reserve.

Case in point: ssndob.ru, a Web site that sells access to consumer credit reports for $15 per report. The site also sells access to drivers license records ($4) and background reports ($12), as well as straight SSN and date of birth lookups. Random “fulls” records — which include first, middle and last names, plus the target’s address, phone number, SSN and DOB — sell for 50 cents each. Fulls located by DOB cost $1, and $1.50 if searched by ZIP Code.

Credit report lookup page at ssndob.ru

Credit report lookup page at ssndob.ru

It’s not clear from where this service gets its credit reports and other data, but it appears that at least some of the lookups are done manually by the proprietors. Pending new records requests are tracked with varying messages, such as “in queue,” and “in progress,” and often take more than 15 minutes to process.

A source who agreed to have their information looked up at this service provided his Social Security number, date of birth and address. Within 15 minutes, the site returned a full credit report produced by TransUnion; the report, saved as an HMTL file, was archived in a password protected zip file and uploaded to sendspace.com, with a link to the file and a password to unlock the archive.

Continue reading →


10
Oct 11

Identity Theft More Profitable Than Car Theft

Buying a car or making any other expensive purchase can be a hassle. And when it’s necessary to finance a purchase, there’s one more hurdle. If you want merchant financing, you’ll often be required to fill out a credit application or, at the least, to provide information like a credit card or your Social Security number.

Recent hacker break-ins at a half-dozen car dealerships nationwide are a reminder of just how easily one’s personal and financial information can be jeopardized by poor security at any of of tens of thousands of organizations that have access to that data.

Earlier this month, Farmington Hills, Mich. based RouteOne LLC sent a letter to more than 20,000 dealerships around the country, warning of probable malware infections at six dealerships that use its service. Formed in 2002, RouteOne is a joint venture by GMAC (now called Ally Financial), Ford Motor Credit, Toyota Financial Services, and DaimlerChrysler Financial Services. Dealerships use RouteOne’s credit application software and Web portal to run credit checks and process financing for car buyers. The service also allows authorized users to pull credit reports from the three major credit reporting bureaus.

In September 2011, RouteOne issued a “security bulletin,” to its affiliates, stating in part:

A letter from RouteOne to partner dealerships.

“Over the recent past, RouteOne has received information regarding a small number of dealerships (6) that have experienced compromises in their system security environments (including misappropriation and misuse of their RouteOne log on credentials likely as a result of their dealership computers being infected with spyware). RouteOne is in contact and working with affected dealerships in an attempt to help them address their security issues.”

The bulletin states further than RouteOne “takes these matters very seriously and therefore has been in contact with the FBI and the U.S. Secret Service. Ryan Holmes, the Secret Service agent assigned to the investigation of the attacks on RouteOne’s customers, said he could not release any information on an active investigation.

Mass data collection, and the resulting potential for cybertheft, is a relatively recent problem. Ten years ago, data aggregation points like RouteOne didn’t exist. RouteOne was created to speed credit and financing processes at dealerships, which previously had to navigate to and authenticate at multiple finance vendors, lenders and credit bureaus. Today, dealerships can access all this information with a username and password at RouteOne.net, or via a RouteOne iPhone app.

Dan Doman, vice president and general counsel for RouteOne, said the company became aware of the unauthorized activity after it was notified by the affected dealers.

“It’s important to note that RouteOne has not been breached in this instance, or ever in the past,” Doman said. “What we do when we learn of these matters is we try to get it out to our dealers as quickly as possible so they can take appropriate steps to fix it.”

ID theft services for sale.

Technically, RouteOne is correct. It did not have a data breach: Some of the customers who use their service did. But that distinction is irrelevant to thieves who prize such access, and to consumers who find their identities hijacked and themselves saddled with unexpected debts from fraudulent new lines of credit opened in their names. The criminal underground is full of services that allow miscreants to look up Social Security numbers, dates of birth, maiden names, and other sensitive information. It’s not clear where that data comes from, but the most likely sources are compromised accounts at businesses and organizations that have easy and frequent access to consumer data.

This blog post isn’t intended to single out RouteOne; that is just a recent example of a vast problem for individuals who must share personal data. The same kind of data aggregation exists in many other businesses and tens of thousands of organizations that routinely access sensitive consumer data, including medical, dental and real estate services. Thieves can access a gold mine of consumer data just by compromising PCs at any of these places. Continue reading →