Is the Patelco Data Breach Legit or Scam? A Deep Dive

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  • Post published:February 13, 2024
  • Post category:Reviews

The recent Patelco data breach has left many of the credit union’s members concerned about the security of their personal and financial information. In September 2023, Patelco sent out notifications to over 180,000 members alerting them that their sensitive data may have been compromised in a breach involving third-party vendor Sovos Compliance.

Understandably, some Patelco members are questioning if the data breach notice is legitimate or a scam. In today’s world of rampant cybercrime and fraud, it’s wise to approach any breach announcement with a critical eye.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll analyze the known details about the Patelco breach, examine common signs of data breach scams, and provide best practices to secure your sensitive information after a confirmed breach. Read on for a detailed look at whether the Patelco data breach announcement is real or an attempt to steal personal data.

Let’s dive in.

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Overview of the Patelco Data Breach

First, let’s review the timeline and known facts about the Patelco data breach:

  • February – March 2023: A skimming device is installed on a Patelco ATM, stealing credit card and PIN data of customers using that ATM. This initial ATM breach impacts a limited number of members.
  • May 31, 2023: Sovos Compliance, a vendor handling unclaimed property services for Patelco, discovers a vulnerability in Progress Software’s SecureFT file transfer application that exposed customer data. The flaw enables a malicious actor to access a Sovos server containing Patelco member information.
  • September 22, 2023: Patelco sends data breach notification letters to 181,507 members alerting them that their names, addresses, dates of birth, Social Security numbers and other sensitive data may have been accessed in the Sovos Compliance breach.
  • September – October 2023: Patelco offers two years of free identity protection and credit monitoring services to affected members through Kroll.

Patelco has confirmed on its website and in media statements that the data breach announcement is legitimate. Third-party vendors involved, including Sovos Compliance and Kroll, back up Patelco’s timeline.

Additionally, the breach has been reported to the Maine Attorney General’s office and other state regulators per data breach notification laws.

Is the Patelco Breach Notice a Scam? Signs to Look For

While the known evidence suggests the Patelco data breach is real, it’s smart to be vigilant about potential scam communications related to the incident. Cybercriminals frequently leverage news of actual data breaches to craft sophisticated phishing messages and social engineering scams.

Here are some warning signs that a Patelco breach notification may be fraudulent:

  • It asks you to click links or download attachments – Official data breach notices generally don’t contain clickable links or ask you to download files, which could install malware.
  • It requests personal information – A scam notice may ask you to provide or “verify” sensitive information like credit card or Social Security numbers. Legitimate notices don’t require this.
  • It has threatening language – Scam messages often use intimidating language suggesting dire consequences if you don’t immediately provide personal data.
  • It contains poor spelling/grammar – Phishing scams are often riddled with typos and sentence construction errors.
  • It’s from a non-Patelco email address – Carefully check the sender’s email. Scam notices often spoof company names.
  • It asks you to pay money – No legitimate breach notice will require a payment or fee to secure your personal data. Hang up on any breach-related call demanding payment.
  • The timing is off – Scam notices related to real breaches often get sent out weeks later, after public awareness of the breach has faded.

In contrast, here are some indicators the Patelco breach alert is legitimate:

  • It’s sent by a @patelco.org or @sovos.com email address
  • It contains your Patelco member number and branches where you have accounts
  • It provides the exact dates of the breach (May 31 to Sept 22, 2023)
  • It offers free credit monitoring services through Kroll
  • It aligns with the details from Patelco’s website and media statements
  • It does NOT contain any requests for personal data or payments

When in doubt, contact Patelco directly through its official customer service phone number or website to verify the authenticity of any breach-related communication.

Impacts of the Patelco Data Breach

Now that we’ve established the Patelco breach announcement is legitimate, let’s look at what types of data were exposed and how this impacts members:

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Data exposed:

  • Names
  • Addresses
  • Email addresses
  • Phone numbers
  • Social Security numbers
  • Driver’s license numbers (for some members)
  • Dates of birth
  • Patelco account numbers

This kind of personal and financial information is extremely valuable to cybercriminals involved in identity theft and financial fraud.

With members’ names, Social Security numbers and dates of birth, scammers can create fake IDs and open fraudulent credit cards and loans. Financial account numbers can be used to access and drain accounts. Information like phone numbers, emails and addresses enables targeted phishing attacks against breach victims.

Potential risks to members:

  • Identity theft
  • Credit card fraud
  • Bank account takeovers
  • Medical identity theft
  • Utility account fraud
  • Phishing attacks
  • Damage to credit reports and scores

Identity theft is considered the most serious risk stemming from the type of data compromised in the Patelco breach. Stolen member info makes it easy for criminals to open fake accounts and commit financial fraud.

Members are also now more vulnerable to targeted phishing scams using their exposed personal details. These risks will persist for years, as stolen data continues to circulate on the dark web long after a breach.

Is the Free Credit Monitoring Service a Scam?

To help members protect their data in the aftermath of the breach, Patelco is offering two years of free credit monitoring through the firm Kroll. This service is legitimate and comes directly from Patelco.

Here’s what the Kroll credit monitoring includes for Patelco members:

  • Ongoing access to your credit reports and scores from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion
  • Alerts if any new accounts are opened in your name
  • Alerts for changes to your credit reports
  • WebScan notifications if your info appears on risky or suspicious sites
  • Fraud consultation services
  • Identity theft restoration services

This is a fairly robust credit monitoring and identity protection package. While no service can prevent all potential misuse, it does provide monitoring essentials that can alert members to fraud early on.

Some common signs the free credit offer isn’t legit:

  • It requests sensitive info like bank account or SSN to “verify identity”
  • It asks for credit card payment for “activation fees”
  • It is from any domain besides @patelco.org or @kroll.com
  • It has different coverage services or timeframe than what Patelco announced

As long as the offer comes directly from Patelco via its official member notification, members can safely enroll in the two years of Kroll monitoring. But be wary of any similar offers coming from unknown senders.

Steps Patelco Members Should Take to Protect Their Identity

For Patelco members whose data was exposed, here are important steps to take now to minimize breach-related risks:

Enroll in the free credit monitoring: Activate the 2 years of credit/identity monitoring through Kroll. Set up alerts so you are notified of any new accounts or credit issues.

Place fraud alerts: Contact Equifax, Experian and TransUnion to put 1-year fraud alerts on your credit files so you are notified of any potential identity theft.

Consider a credit freeze: Freezing your credit restricts access to your credit reports, blocking thieves from opening new accounts. It’s more effective than fraud alerts but less convenient if you need to apply for credit.

Change account passwords: Update passwords, security questions and PINs for your Patelco accounts and any other banking apps or online accounts. Enable two-factor authentication where possible.

Review account statements: Closely monitor financial statements and benefits explanations for any signs of fraudulent activity. Report any unknown charges or accounts immediately.

Watch out for phishing: Be extra diligent about possible phishing attempts leveraging your personal data via phone, email, text or mail. Do not click links or provide info if something seems suspicious.

File your taxes early: Submit your tax return as early as possible to prevent fraudsters from filing a fake return in your name and pocketing the refund.

Consider a credit lock: For total account lockdown, request a credit lock from Experian and TransUnion which seals your credit reports until you unlock them. This gives you maximum fraud protection but may not be practical long-term.

The full FTC identity theft recovery guide provides extensive resources on monitoring compromised data and restoring your identity after a breach. Patelco members can also call 833-704-9239 for help from Kroll’s breach support services.

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Being proactive is key, as identity theft related to data breaches may not surface for months or years after the initial incident. Ongoing vigilance of your accounts, credit reports and online presence will help keep your data secure.

Could Patelco Have Prevented This Data Breach?

While individual members have an obligation to safeguard their data following a breach, the incident also raises questions around Patelco’s data security policies and reliance on third-party vendors.

According to cybersecurity experts, there are a few areas where Patelco may have improved its systems and processes to prevent or mitigate the breach:

Improved vendor risk assessment: Patelco apparently did not adequately vet Sovos Compliance’s data security prior to sharing sensitive customer data. More rigorous vendor assessments could have identified vulnerabilities.

Accelerated patch management: The breach stemmed from an unpatched flaw in Progress Software’s SecureFT system used by Sovos. Faster patching of this known system vulnerability could have eliminated exposure.

Enhanced network segmentation: Keeping vendor systems more segmented from Patelco’s core banking systems could have limited the data exposure from the compromised Sovos server.

Routine customer data audits: Many breached companies don’t have full visibility into where sensitive customer data exists across systems, vendors and files. Proactive audits and access controls can reduce breach impacts.

Increased data encryption: Stronger encryption, tokenization and masking of Social Security numbers and account numbers may have rendered the stolen data useless to hackers.

Improved data retention policies: Purging older customer data that’s no longer required for active operations could have reduced the scope of compromised records.

While hindsight is 20/20, proactively investing in these areas likely would have reduced risks from third-party vendor breaches for Patelco members.

Key Takeaways: Legit Patelco Breach Requires Ongoing Vigilance

In summary, extensive evidence indicates the recent Patelco data breach announcement is legitimate, exposing sensitive data like Social Security numbers and driver’s licenses of over 180,000 credit union members.

While Patelco is providing free credit monitoring to affected customers, individuals still need to take proactive precautions to prevent potential identity theft and account misuse by cybercriminals.

With breached data now available on the dark web, fraud risks could linger for years. Patelco members should enroll in credit monitoring, place fraud alerts, change passwords and be extra vigilant against phishing attempts using their compromised personal information.

Ongoing monitoring of credit reports, financial statements and online activity is crucial to detecting any signs of fraud stemming from the Patelco breach. Alerts, freezes and credit locks can all help protect against criminals accessing accounts or opening fake ones.

And of course, members should immediately report any suspicious communications referencing the breach to Patelco directly. While scammers may exploit the incident, legitimate breach assistance will only come from Patelco or contracted partners like Kroll.

No organization can guarantee data will never be breached. But Patelco does have an obligation to evaluate its vendor oversight, data security controls and incident response to better safeguard its members’ sensitive information going forward. Given the distributed nature of data storage and reliance on third-party systems, breaches are likely inevitable. However, more rigorous data security and governance policies could help reduce risks and limit impacts of future attacks.

Let us know in the comments if you have any other questions regarding the validity and impacts of the Patelco data breach!

Frequently Asked Questions About the Patelco Breach

1. What customer data was exposed in the breach?

The Patelco data breached exposed names, addresses, email addresses, phone numbers, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers (for some members), Patelco account numbers, and potentially other personal and financial information.

2. How did hackers access Patelco member data?

The breach occurred due to a vulnerability in third-party vendor Sovos Compliance’s SecureFT file transfer system, which Patelco uses to exchange customer information. Sovos confirmed hackers exploited this flaw to enter its systems and steal data belonging to Patelco members.

4. How many Patelco members were affected?

Patelco notified approximately 181,507 members that their personal information was potentially accessed and/or stolen in the data breach.

5. Is the free credit monitoring offer from Patelco a scam?

No, the free 2 years of credit/identity monitoring through Kroll is a legitimate benefit being offered by Patelco to help members monitor their credit and identity following the breach. Members should ensure enrollment communications come directly from Patelco and avoid entering data on any other sites claiming to provide breach monitoring assistance.

6. How long will breached Patelco member data be exposed?

Unfortunately, once personal data ends up in the hands of cybercriminals, it tends to be bought, sold and circulated indefinitely on hacking forums and dark web sites. Breached data has value for years after an initial attack, as criminals leverage it for ongoing identity theft and financial fraud. Patelco members will need to monitor their credit and accounts vigilantly for the long term.

7. Could Patelco have prevented this breach?

Cybersecurity experts say additional steps by Patelco in areas like third party vendor risk assessment, network segmentation, data encryption and routine customer data auditing may have reduced the likelihood or severity of a breach through its vendor chain. However, breaches are extremely difficult to prevent entirely given the interconnected nature of financial data storage and transmission systems today.

8. Where can Patelco members get more information about the breach?

Patelco has established a breach information along with a member support phone number at 833-704-9239. Patelco is also mailing detailed breach notification letters to all affected members.

Best Practices for Consumers Following a Data Breach

Data breaches at banks, retailers, healthcare providers and other companies have unfortunately become common. If you receive notification that your personal information was compromised, here are best practices to help safeguard your identity and accounts:

  • Enroll in free monitoring/protection services offered by the breached company. These typically provide credit reports, monitoring, alerts and identity restoration help.
  • Place a fraud alert on your credit files at Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. This requires creditors to verify your identity when opening new accounts to deter fraud.
  • Consider a credit freeze to restrict access to your credit reports, which blocks thieves from opening new credit accounts. Freezing can interfere with legitimate credit applications, so evaluate whether to lift the freeze temporarily when needed.
  • Review account statements closely for any unauthorized activity and report fraudulent transactions right away.
  • Change passwords and security questions/PINs for financial accounts, email accounts and other login credentials. Enable stronger multi-factor authentication options when available.
  • Watch out for breach-related phishing scams, either by phone, email or text. Never click links or provide sensitive data if something seems suspicious.
  • Be wary of any communications referencing the breach that ask for personal info, have spelling/grammar issues, or come from non-official domains. Confirm legitimacy directly with the breached organization.
  • Consider a credit lock for maximum protection. Credit locks require providing a PIN each time credit needs to be accessed, adding an extra layer of account security.
  • Check your credit reports regularly for unknown credit inquiries, accounts or charges, and report any fraudulent activity ASAP. Enrolling in credit monitoring services can provide alerts when changes are made.

Staying vigilant following a confirmed data breach announcement is key, as identity theft can surface months or even years later. Take advantage of available protections, freeze your credit reports if warranted, and monitor your accounts closely to limit potential financial and identity theft damages.

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