The great hack: A famous fraudster explains the Equifax data breach

Hackers look for open doors. If your personal data isn't protected, it's that much easier to compromise your identity.

FRANK W. ABAGNALE: First you should always ask when someone asks you joining a gym I need your social security number. For what reason? What's the purpose of asking me for my social security number? They don't need it. Actually, by law when you look up the law involving your social security number it's limited to about as many things as you can count on one hand where you legally have to provide it for income taxes, law enforcement, things of that nature. There's no need for them to have that. They're kind of foolish taking it to begin with because then they're responsible for that information and they have to try to keep that information safe. In the case of Equifax which is a perfect example, here was a multibillion dollar company. They didn't update their software. They didn't fix their patches that Microsoft said to them and said install these security patches. Their chief information security officer had her degree in music. She really didn't know anything about keeping information safe and consequently hackers got in.

Now in my 43-year career I've dealt with every breach back to TJ Maxx 15 years ago to the recent breach of Capital One, Marriott Hotels, and Facebook. What I've realized in every single breach happens because somebody in that company did something they weren't supposed to do, or somebody in that company failed to do something they were supposed to do. Hackers don't cause breaches. People do. All hackers do is look for open doors and every day there are thousands of companies with open doors. I was asked this earlier today and I firmly believe it. If I give you my information whether you be a bank or credit bureau, a hospital, I'm entrusting you with my personal data. If something happens with that data due to your fault or your negligence in keeping it safe I should have the right to a recourse to sue you for getting my information out. Because now that they don't have that as a statute companies get away with it and they tell you I'll buy you one year of credit monitoring service, two years of credit monitoring service. That's worthless.

If I steal your name, your social security number and your date of birth you can't change your name. You can't change your social security number. You can't change your date of birth. So if I'm smart I'm going to hold that data for at least three to four years before I ever go use it. But if I steal credit card numbers and debit card numbers, I have to get rid of them right away. They have a very short shelf life. But when they do a major breach they store that data typically we find from about four to five years. So you giving me one year of credit monitoring, two years of credit monitoring, three years of credit monitoring really is not going to help me at all in the long run. They will eventually get to my data and use my data. I do think that companies need to do a better job of protecting the information that's been entrusted to them. And this is why I was so big on trying to get the ability to freeze your credit. No one in this country ever said to Equifax, you know what. You can store all my personal data and you can make billions of dollars selling it for background checks, employee checks, credit checks. No, I never said that.

What I want to say is, Equifax you can keep my data, but you cannot show it to anyone without my consent. And if for some reason it gets in the wrong hand I have the recourse to come back on you 'cause you put my in jeopardy. And that's how it should be.

  • Legendary con-man-turned-FBI-consultant Frank W. Abagnale breaks down the 2017 Equifax data breach.
  • Hackers were able to access the personal data of millions of Americans through faulty software — and they might wait years before using the stolen social security numbers and dates of birth.
  • Abagnale blames Equifax for this oversight. If a company is entrusted with an individual's personal data they need to do a better job of protecting it. "Hackers don't cause breaches, people do," he says.

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