ChoicePoint Says Security Breach Widespread

A spinoff of credit reporting agency Equifax acknowleged Monday that criminals may have gained access to consumer information on residents in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and three U.S. territories.

ChoicePoint Inc. said it will notify 144,778 people that may have been affected, although California investigators believe the number may be as high as 500,000, Dow Jones Newswires reported.

The Monday announcement follows last week's news that people using stolen identities created businesses that appeared to be legitimate and used a breach in the company's verification process to open 50 ChoicePoint accounts, receiving names, addresses, Social Security numbers and credit reports from the company's database.

ChoicePoint, which started in 1997 to analyze insurance claims information, has become a clearinghouse for personal information on hundreds of millions of people, Dow Jones reported.

The company will require about 17,000 customers to again go through the process of approving their credentials to verify that they are legitimate businesses. Government agencies and public companies will not need to go through the verification process again, and the newly re-credentialed companies will no longer gain access to consumers' Social Security numbers, dates of birth and driver's license numbers unless they are sponsored by a public company or government agency, marketing director James Lee said.

The thieves have defrauded at least 750 people, according to California authorities. The ring operated for a year before it was detected in October after the searches conducted by the suspects were tracked.

Customers who may have been affected were not notified until this month because authorities did not want to release information that could jeopardize their investigation.

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