A lawsuit was filed against credit reporting agency Experian over a massive data breach that exposed the personal information of millions of California residents, including hundreds of thousands of San Diegans.
San Diego City Attorney Mara W. Elliott's lawsuit claims Experian failed "to notify victims of a security lapse that exposed" residents' personal information "to identity thieves and other criminals working on the Dark Web."
City officials said the data breach happened in 2015 and lasted over an 18-month period, during which time the personal information of 3.1 million Californians -- including an estimated 250,000 of them from San Diego County -- was accessible to thieves.
The lawsuit stated several crimes occurred as a result of the breach, including $65 million in fraudulent tax returns obtained illegally by hackers.
"When a company like Experian keeps you in the dark, when it ignores its legal obligation to tell you that identity thieves may be foraging through your most private information, they make an awful situation all the worse," Elliott said. "The average consumer does not have the time or the resources to fight back against this corporate malfeasance."
Deputy City Attorney Mark Ankcorn said in 2010, Hieu Minh Ngo posed as a private investigator out of Singapore to gain access to a database maintained by Orange County-based Court Ventures, Inc. (CVI). With access to 200 million records, Ngo resold data access to thieves on the "Dark Web."
Ankcorn said Experian purchased CVI in 2012, but they were unaware Ngo continued to maintain access to data and other records until he was arrested in Guam in February 2013 during a U.S. Secret Service sting operation.
Ngo was charged with multiple federal felonies, and he eventually pleaded guilty in 2014 to charges of wire fraud, identity fraud and computer fraud and abuse. He was sentenced to 13 years in prison in 2015.
The investigation into Ngo also revealed:
-- 1,300 data thieves around the world bought access to the records
-- the thieves paid at least $1.9 million to Ngo for the access
-- at least 30 million people had their personal information sold on the Dark Web
-- IRS says 13,673 fraudulent tax returns were filed
In 2017, fellow credit bureau Equifax was hit by a data breach that impacted over 143 million Americans. Hundreds of thousands of credit card numbers were exposed because of the Equifax breach.
Earlier this month, Equifax officials announced an additional 2.4 million people were affected by the 2017 breach. Equifax said it would reach out to all newly impacted consumers and provide the same credit monitoring and identity theft protection services they have been offering to the original victims.
To find out if you were affected by the Equifax breach, visit https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/