Breach leaves nearly 1,000 at housing authority at risk for fraud

TACOMA, Wash. -- A serious security breach is now preying on people struggling in Pierce County. Already down on their luck, the KOMO Problem Solvers have learned that their Social Security numbers were exposed on the Internet.

Close to 1,000 people, all clients of the Pierce County Housing Authority who are on the wait list for housing, could now become the victims of fraud.

It's a shock for anyone -- especially those working to establish or repair credit and waiting for a permanent place to live.

"It's very disturbing as you can imagine," said Housing Authority executive director Karen Hull.

A client first discovered the breach by accident last week when the single mother logged on to check her status and came across a file that listed Social Security numbers.

Hull immediately called their web team in Florida who shut down the site to remove the file. That shut down only lasted two hours, but she's still waiting to hear how long the information had been out there and who accessed it. She also waited to notify clients of the breach.

Originally we were waiting for the data people to come back with an answer and unfortunately that didn't happen," she said.

The Problem Solvers obtained the letter that Hull wrote, which is now going out to all 979 clients exposed. These are single parents, disabled, or working poor families who cannot afford housing on their own.

The average rent income in Pierce County is $16.50, so if you're not working full time and making at least that amount per hour, you can't even afford to pay rent.

Hull says the breach came from human error.

"There was a file that was not encrypted or password protected and that would have been a former staff member," she said.

She said the staffer's departure had nothing to do with this security breach.

Regardless of how it happened, once your private, personal information is out there, you must take steps to avoid serious financial damage.

Hull says the agency is going to offer extra classes to coach its clients on what to do. And we have learned that the Housing Authority would also like to pay for the credit report of every person affected, but that could be financial suicide, since that would cost the already-financially-strapped authority more than $38,000.

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