Experian Plc, Equifax Inc. and TransUnion Corp., the three biggest U.S. credit-reporting companies, said they uncovered cases where hackers gained illegal, unauthorized access to users’ information.
Credit reports, purportedly on famous people ranging from Michelle Obama to Paris Hilton, were posted online. TransUnion said those responsible used “considerable amounts” of personal information including social-security numbers to impersonate victims and access their credit history.
The vulnerability of credit-reporting companies, custodians of sensitive personal data from credit card balances to mortgage debts, is gaining greater exposure. Bloomberg News reported in October that Experian was breached 86 times via the accounts of organizations such as banks or auto dealers.
“We are aware of recent media reports pertaining to unauthorized access to files belonging to high-profile individuals,” Tim Klein, a spokesman for Equifax, wrote in an e-mailed statement. “Equifax can confirm that fraudulent and unauthorized access to four consumer credit reports has occurred.”
The documents posted online come mostly from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Statements by Equifax and TransUnion verify the authenticity of some of the documents, reported earlier by website TMZ.com.
“Upon learning of the situation, we took immediate action to freeze the credit files of those victimized by this malicious attack in an effort to minimize impact to those individuals,” Gerry Tschopp, a spokesman at Experian, said in an e-mailed statement.
Experian is investigating whether any of its information was compromised, and said that hackers accessed people’s personal data using outside information.
TransUnion didn’t identify which celebrities’ credit reports were breached. The hackers had “considerable amounts of information about the victims, including social-security numbers and other sensitive, personal identifying information,” said Clifton O’Neal, a spokesman for TransUnion.
A review of the documents posted online show credit reports from TransUnion on Michelle Obama, FBI director Robert Mueller, actors Mel Gibson and Ashton Kutcher, singer Beyonce, and former pro wrestler Hulk Hogan.
Equifax said credit reports on four celebrities were compromised through its service. The documents online show credit reports of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder; Charlie Beck, chief of the Los Angeles Police Department; the rapper Jay-Z; former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger; and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore.
Paris Hilton’s credit report appeared to be from Experian.
The hackers impersonated their targets by gathering personal details on them from other sources. Using the online account portal that consumers use to access their own credit reports, the attackers tricked the systems into giving them access to credit reports, Equifax and TransUnion said.