Q: I received an email today and I’m wondering if it is legitimate? The sender’s email address does not seem to be the correct one for Experian. The email offers a free “dark web scan” to see if my Social Security number is at risk. I attempted to contact Experian by telephone about this but that is a total waste of my time. After about a half-hour of calling various numbers for them and going through a lot of hoops through their automated messaging system, I finally reached a number I thought was valid for customer service. After waiting too long to talk to a real person, I was encouraged to leave a message only to be told that the mailbox was full and would not accept any further messages. What a joke! What good is a credit bureau if they are only willing to respond to you if you want to buy their services?
My concern is the legitimacy of this email and how many other people have received this. It looks official but there are questions. I’m sure some people will jump at this and could be hurt if it not legit. I hope you will be able to check this out.
A: Consumers’ inability to reach Experian by phone is a whole different topic for another day.
Regarding Experian’s “Dark Web Scan,” the Texas-based credit bureau does indeed offer such a service that promises to scan to see whether your personal information is for sell to the bad guys.
Let’s just cut to the chase: Everyone should assume his or her Social Security number, date of birth, phone number and more are available for purchase. I’ll save you from wasting your time wondering. Assume your information is out there. The dark web refers to illegal websites where identity thieves can buy information that they can use to commit fraud.
If you’ve ever been the victim of a merchant data breach, like the ones at Target or Home Depot, then your credit card or debit card number has probably gone up for sale, for perhaps $25 to $100 per number. Debit card numbers sell for more than credit card numbers.
Of course, we can change our card numbers when we find out we’re the victim of a breach. But we can’t change our information when our Social Security number or date of birth is compromised through a data breach, as happened with half of the adult population last year in Equifax’s colossally horrible data breach.
Equifax disclosed in September 2017 that all of the personal information in people’s credit files was stolen for more than 150 million U.S. consumers — including names, addresses, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, phone numbers, employment details, names of relatives in the home, etc.
Bottom line: You should operate as if your Social Security number is already in the hands of bad guys, or it will be at some point in the future. You don’t need Experian to tell you this. Increasingly, I recommend that people freeze their credit files to prevent new accounts from being opened. I also recommend that people take precautions with existing bank, credit card and investment accounts to make sure you are notified if someone tries to steal your money or change your contact information.
While Experian says it offers a free “dark web scan”, we know it’s trying to sell you something eventually. Experian says: “This one-time scan looks back to 2006 and searches over 600,000 web pages for your SSN, email or phone number. If your information is compromised, we’ll let you know the next steps you should take to ensure your identity is safe.”
I’m sure that at some point, those next steps will cost money. Again, I don’t believe that identity theft protection services can do anything for you that you can’t do yourself. And identity theft protection services often don’t help you protect existing accounts.
Back to your original question about this email that made you wonder whether it was legitimate: You and I should never respond to unexpected emails, text messages, phone calls or mail that asks for personal information. Period. Full stop. So with this email, I wouldn’t advise you to click on the link in the message, no matter what.
If you are interested in Experian’s dark web scan, then go directly to Experian’s web site, www.experian.com. Go down to the box where you can type in what you’re searching for and type in “dark web scan.” Or you can go directly here.
To reach Teresa Murray, email [email protected] or call or text 216-316-7064. She cannot respond to all queries or comments.
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