W.Va. attorney general offers security breach advice

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Count West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey among those individuals who are upset by news that nearly 22 million people – including current and former federal employees – may have had personal information stolen by hackers.

While the “size and scope of this data breach is staggering,” Morrisey is also concerned about how long it took federal officials to publicly acknowledge the problem.

“Last month, the Office of Personnel Management announced that personnel data for about 4.2 million current and former federal employees had been stolen. The agency now admits it was aware of this fact in April. On Thursday, the agency expanded its original number, admitting personal data for roughly 21.5 million people involved in federal background investigations had been compromised.” he said in a press release.

“West Virginians rightfully deserve to know if their personal information is protected, and I’m extremely disappointed it has taken officials this long to properly acknowledge who has been affected by this breach,” he said.

That’s important since Workforce West Virginia data shows that about 22,800 people currently work for the federal government in West Virginia, he said.

Among the current and former federal employees that were affected, the information that was stolen may include a person’s full name, birth date, home address and Social Security number, according to his release.

Additionally, background investigation records of current, former and prospective Federal employees and contractors were also compromised. That includes records of 19.7 million individuals who applied for background investigations and 1.8 million non-applicants, primarily the spouses or co-habitants of applicants, the release states.

“Many of the original 4.2 million affected current and former employees were included in this group. However, the agency has not yet begun the process of notifying the additional individuals affected by this portion of the breach,” Morrisey said.

The agency said the information hackers may have gained from these records could include Social Security numbers, fingerprint data, residency and educational history, employment history, information about immediate family and personal and business acquaintances, health and financial history, findings from interviews conducted by background investigators and the usernames and passwords used to fill out online forms, the release states.

It’s never too early to be proactive for consumers to proactively protect their personal, financial information and identities, Morrisey said.

Some basic consumer tips include:

Monitor bank accounts and credit card statements to detect unauthorized charges;

Check credit reports for new accounts or creditors you do not recognize. All consumers are entitled to a free annual credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian, and Transunion;

Place a fraud alert on your credit report. These free alerts last for 90 days and make it more difficult for a person to open up a line of credit in your name.

Participate in the free credit monitoring now being offered by the federal Office of Personnel Management.

“I strongly encourage anyone who has ever worked for, or applied for a job with the federal government, to be vigilant in monitoring their bank accounts and credit reports in the coming months,” Morrisey said.

Last week, Morrisey joined a bipartisan, national coalition of state Attorneys General to “urge federal lawmakers against pre-empting state authority when it comes to data breaches and data security laws,” the release said.

“I think the federal government’s reaction to this situation is a cautionary tale that demonstrates why states should be able to take the lead in protecting our citizens’ personal data,” Morrisey said.

“We have good laws and resources in place at the state level to protect and notify citizens when data breaches occur. It’s clear that now is not the time to give that authority over to a federal government that can’t even protect its own data,” he said.

For information on preventing identity theft or to report suspicious activity, contact the West Virginia Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at 800-368-8808 or the Eastern Panhandle field office in Martinsburg at 304-267-0239. To file a consumer complaint online, go to www.wvago.gov.

– Staff writer Jenni Vincent can be reached at 304-263-8931, ext. 131.

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