The Importance of Keeping Data Private 

County Chief Information Security Officer, T.J. Fields is urging us all to take more control of our information in credit reporting accounts in the wake of a security breach at Experian, one of the three major credit reporting bureaus.

The bad news is that for an undetermined period of time ending in December of 2022, identity thieves had the ability to bypass Experian security to view consumer’s credit reports, having only an individual’s address, birthday, name, and social security number. Some of this personal information may have been contained in an unrelated 2017 Equifax breach, which contained this information on more than 45 million adults. The good news is that the flaw in the Experian website that allowed the breach has been corrected and is no longer active. The breach provides a good reminder of the importance of keeping private data private, and the impact in the event of a privacy breach. Here are two recommendations to help protect yourself from data breaches:  activating “freezes” on your credit reports and pulling your credit reports on a regular, periodic basis.

Learn more about taking control of your credit and digital identity from T.J. Fields below.

Why it is important to protect my Social Security Number (SSN), Personally Identifiable Information (PII) and other private information? 

A Social Security Number was originally only intended for a person to receive certain benefits from the government, or for paying into the Social Security Trust. However, over time, a Social Security Number (SSN) has become a universal identifier for Americans. A significant number of government agencies and businesses use an individual’s Social Security Card to verify a person’s identity, track their financial history, register for driver’s licenses and voting, set up new companies, and many other vital benefits. In this way, what was once designed to be a private piece of information between you and one agency – the Social Security Administration – has now become a private piece of information between you and potentially dozens of other entities. This increases the number of possible points that your SSN could be stolen.

A recent joint investigation between the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) unearthed a criminal enterprise selling more than 20 million stolen SSNs at less than $4 per record. So these “private” numbers are a lot less private than you may realize. Criminals can combine a SSN with your Personally Identifiable Information (PII), such as first and last name, address, and other contact information, to steal your identity to create many forms of fraud, such as financial fraud, medical fraud or tax fraud. Protecting your SSN and PII is important to reduce your risk of falling prey to these kinds of fraud. 

What can you do today to help protect your SSN and PII 

While there are a number of ways that criminals can obtain and use your private information, Data Privacy Week is a great time to take more control of your private information, in particular, your information contained by credit reporting agencies. For more details of the Experian flaw and recommendations for action, please see Identity Thieves Bypassed Experian Security to View Credit Reports. 

Two recommendations from the articles: activating “freezes” on your credit reports and pulling your credit reports on a regular, periodic basis. 

Credit Freezes 

The purpose of activating a freeze on your credit reports is to prevent anyone from opening any additional credit lines in your name. Essentially, it is preventing financial fraud against you, by ensuring that criminals cannot take out credit cards, loans, or other lines of credit in your name. 

The details of how to freeze your credit are outlined in the linked article above, but in summary, you contact each of the three credit reporting companies (Equifax, Experian, and Transunion) online, by phone or by mail and ask for a freeze to be placed on your account. 

Each of the companies have a process to temporarily “thaw” your credit file in case you legitimately need to open a new credit card, refinance a mortgage, or take out a car loan. At the end of the temporary “thaw’ your credit will return to its frozen state. 

Pulling Credit Reports 

Another recommended step to monitor your personal information is to request a free credit report from each of the three agencies. is a website that is required to provide all Americans with a free copy of their credit report from each of the three major reporting agencies, once per year.   

Once you pull your credit report, review it for bad information, such as unknown addresses or phone numbers, as well as unrecognized lines of credit. Each of the agencies has a resolution process, described in the report on how to dispute and resolve any issues found. In this way, you can at least make sure the information these agencies has on you is correct. 

What if Someone Has Stolen My Social Security Number and PII? 

The best thing you can do if you have reason to believe that your SSN or PII has been stolen or used inappropriately is to contact your local law enforcement office. They will be able to further guide you based on the amount and type of fraud that has been reported. 

Cybercrime Support Network 

In addition to law enforcement, there is an organization – The Cybercrime Support Network – to help you, not only if your private data was exposed, but if: 

  •  You lost money via a scam
  •  You were hacked
  •  You were targeted by an imposter 
  •  Someone is harassing you online 
  •  Your identity was stolen 

Please stay vigilant in protecting your personal information and keep up the good fight against cyber-criminals! 

Chief Information Security Officer T.J. Fields is responsible for managing Oakland County’s IT Security Program, including maintaining and validating an Information Risk Management Program to ensure that information assets are adequately protected. He is also responsible for identifying, evaluating, and reporting on information security risks in a manner that meets compliance and regulatory requirements.

Learn more about Oakland County’s Information Security Office at Visit their Citizen Cyber Training portal for online education and online Cyber Security resources to help understand risks and be better prepared for a more secure online experience.

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