Some prominent people are going to have to put a freeze on their credit reports.
First lady Michelle Obama, Mel Gibson, Britney Spears, Beyoncé, Donald Trump and Kim Kardashian are among more than a dozen celebrities and political figures whose Social Security numbers were posted online yesterday (March 12).
Other political figures whose personally identifiable information was exposed include former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller, Attorney General Eric Holder and Los Angeles police chief Charles L. Beck.
The celebrities are rounded out by Jay-Z, Ashton Kutcher, Paris Hilton and Hulk Hogan.
Then there are a couple of people who are both politicians and celebrities: former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Each exposed person gets a page of their own on a crudely designed website, which is still up, hosted on a Russian domain.
The pages list purported Social Security numbers, dates of birth, phone numbers and current and previous known addresses — most topped by a photo of the person concerned looking angry or upset.
Even worse, the site links to credit reports of many of the individuals concerned, showing, for example, bank and mortgage records for Beyonce.
The exposed persons are all American and the site is in English.
It's not clear if the Social Security numbers, phone numbers or addresses are real, but the dates of birth seem to be. The Associated Press reported that some of the Social Security numbers were accurate.
The sad thing about this is that no data breach needs to have taken place for this to happen.
Names, addresses, telephone numbers and dates of birth about almost any American adult are easily available from any of dozens of online "people finder" services for a few dollars.
Looking up a person's Social Security number costs more, but online services offer those for between $25 and $50 per individual.
With a Social Security number, it's easy to run a credit report on anyone.
An identity thief wanting to use Trump's name to open a bank account, for example, would have everything he'd need from such paid services — or from this new Russian website.
That's why it's very important to guard your Social Security number. No one other than you, your immediate family, your employer, your accountant, potential lenders and the IRS needs to know it.
Does your doctor ask for your Social Security number on medical forms? Politely decline to give it. Do you include it on a résumé? Take it off.
If you find yourself exposed as these hapless celebrities and political figures have, contact the three big credit-reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — and have a freeze put on your credit report so that no one will be able to open an account in your name for a couple of months.