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Why your personal info isn’t safe

Target hack victims were directed to Experian for protection. But that company has leaked your data too. (Credit: CNN)

Target hack victims were directed to Experian for protection. But that company has leaked your data too. (Credit: CNN)

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Companies can’t keep your data safe. It’s that simple.

When Target lost data on some 110 million customers, it sent them to credit bureau Experian for “identity theft protection.”

Think you’re in better hands? Think again.

Sometime before the Target hack, Experian had its own data leak — via a subsidiary. It unknowingly sold the personal data of millions of Americans — including Social Security numbers — to a fraudster in Vietnam. That guy then sold the personal information to identity thieves around the globe.

It wasn’t until U.S. Secret Service agents alerted Experian that the company stopped.

That data leak got plugged before Target sent victims to Experian. But it shows that even those entrusted with our most sensitive data don’t know how to protect it.

Hieu Minh Ngo, now 25, was caught and admitted to posing as a private investigator in Singapore to get exclusive access to data via Court Ventures, an Experian subsidiary. Ngo then said he sold access to fellow criminals.

Federal investigators say that let criminals reach databases with 200 million Americans’ personal data, including:

names addresses Social Security numbers birthdays work history driver’s license numbers email addresses banking information

Criminals tapped that database 3.1 million times, investigators said. Surprised you haven’t heard this? It’s because Experian is staying quiet about it.

It’s been more than a year since Experian was notified of the leak. Yet the company still won’t say how many Americans were affected. CNNMoney asked Experian to detail the scope of the breach. The company refused.

“As we’ve said consistently, it is an unfortunate and isolated issue,” Experian spokesman Gerry Tschopp said.

Target and Experian insist that the credit monitoring service is unrelated to the incident involving Experian’s data-selling business.

But Barry Kouns, a security professional who maintains a database of major data breaches, said Target victims remain at risk — just in a different way. According to his company’s Cyber Risk Analytics database, Experian’s databases have been involved in 97 breaches of personal information.

“Based on our research, it appears that data brokers place a high value on collecting and using our information but not so much on protecting it,” Kouns said.

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