Contact 5 has learned a security breach at the Palm Beach County Tax Collector's Office exposed hundreds of Social Security numbers and other personal information.
244 people in the Palm Beach County area received a letter around July 23rd telling them about a security breach that happened between July 1st and July 5th.
The letter tells them the breached information contained their names, mailing addresses and Social Security numbers.
"These 244 people or so should be very cautious. There's a lot of valuable information here," says WPTV Internet Security Expert Alan Crowetz of Infostream. "The holy grail is the Social Security number. If you have that, combined with the property address and some other personal information, that's some pretty juicy stuff. You can open credit cards, apply for credit, you can certainly steal someone's identity with that information, that really is the keys to both financial theft and identity theft."
The tax collector's office says the breach happened because a data file was "erroneously attached during a computer backup process."
"Was this an individual mistake, was this a computer mistake? There's just so many questions involved with this," says Crowetz.
The letter sent to the victims suggested they should monitor their financial accounts and sign up for credit monitoring.
"My biggest complaint is, we don't know who has this information. Was it shared among other employees, was it shared among another agency or was this shared on the whole web? Where was this exposed?" says Crowetz.
That's a question Contact 5 asked the tax collector's office.
In an email Tax Collector Anne Gannon told Contact 5 she wouldn't comment due to an ongoing investigation.
She also wouldn't say what steps they were taking to make sure this doesn't happen again, but said they are "diligently exploring security measures that will prevent this from happening again."
Anne Gannon did say the file has been deleted.
Crowetz had advice for everyone when it comes to protecting your personal information: "Pay attention to your credit reports, there’s no excuse now. There’s things like Credit Karma and many other services that let you see your credit report for free. Are there any strange charges on there, any alerting? Consider signing up for one of the online services."
Infostream has a free guide for id theft/Social Security numbers, credit card protection: https://www.infostream.cc/creditcard