Data Breaches Driving You Crazy? California DMV gives consumers new reason to worry.


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By Consumers Union on Thursday, March 27th, 2014

Uh, oh. It’s happened again: another data breach.

Consumers who used the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) online credit card payment system may find their credit card information is at risk.

The California DMV’s Public Information Officer, Armando Botello, says that the DMV was “alerted by law enforcement authorities to a potential security issue within its credit card processing services.” In other words, crooks may have stolen consumers’ credit card information. That means that if you’ve used the California DMV’s website to pay for services and you used a credit card, you may be at risk of existing account fraud.

Existing account fraud is when a crook uses your account number to buy things. This the most common type of identity theft. Thanks to strong consumer protection laws, consumer losses should this occur are limited to $50, and some credit cards, such as Visa, assure consumers that they have zero liability for fraudulent charges.

Our advice, as with consumers who were affected by the Target breach, is that if you think your payment card was compromised in a data breach, contact your bank and ask for a new card. And, closely monitor your credit card accounts now and well into the future, since you never know when fraudsters will strike, though having a new account number – which will come with the new card – should minimize your risk.

The news could have been worse. The California DMV says, “There is no evidence at this time of a direct breach of the DMV’s computer system.” That means so far at least, it appears that the breach involves only credit cards. But the California DMV allows folks to pay for at least some of the online services by checks, credit cards or debit cards, so if things go sideways, this may not be the end of the story. As we’ve seen with data breaches in the past, sometimes thieves have run off with more information than was initially reported.

If more information was stolen, consumers’ checking accounts or debit cards may also be at risk. If personal information such as drivers license numbers were stolen, consumers may be at risk of a rare but costly form of ID theft, new account fraud. That’s where crooks open new accounts in your name, leaving you on the hook for the bills.

Again, there is no evidence that the California DMV breach exposed any consumer information other than credit cards. But just in case you are worried about new account fraud, you can find advice about how to protect yourself here. And, as always, watch out for scams – find anti-scam advice  here.

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