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FEMA data breach exposed 2.3 million wildfire, hurricane victims to identity theft

New IdentityTheft Scam

Survivors of the Wine Country wildfires could become victims of identity fraud as a result of the improper release of personal information by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a federal watchdog agency warned Friday.

The privacy breach involved about 2.3 million survivors of hurricanes and California wildfires, according to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General. The agency mentions the 2017 California wildfires, as well as hurricanes Harvey, Irwin and Maria, but does not specify which fires.

The breach occurred when FEMA was working with an unnamed contractor to provide short-term housing for fire and hurricane survivors. FEMA is supposed to release only limited information to verify eligibility for benefits. But in 2017, it also sent data that included financial account information, according to a managment alert that redacted the name of the contractor.

“The privacy incident occurred because FEMA did not take steps to ensure it provided only required data elements,” the alert stated. “Without corrective action, the disaster survivors involved in the privacy incident are at increased risk of identity theft and fraud.”

The contractor was aware that it had received additional personal data but did not inform FEMA, the report says.

The document does not say whether anyone has fallen prey to identity theft or fraud because of the breach but FEMA press secretary Lizzie Litzow said the agency has not found evidence that any survivors’ information has been compromised.

FEMA has worked with the contractor to remove the unnecessary information, she said, and is reviewing and improving its privacy protection procedures. The agency expects to complete that work by June 2020, the report says.

Michael Cabanatuan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @ctuan



Source: on 2019-03-22 19:26:15

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