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Last week, officials at Northwest Florida State College (NWFSC) announced a data breach that affected more than 275,00 persons. The affected persons include about 76,500 current and former students, 200,000 Bright Futures scholars, and 3,200 employees.

The breach occurred between May 21 and September 24, 2012, and included the unauthorized access of one of the school's computer servers.The sensitive personal data exposed/stolen includes full names, addresses, birth dates, and Social Security numbers. The Bright Futures persons affected include students during the 2005-06 and 2006-07 academic years. The data exposed/stolen about Bright Futures students includes full names, birth dates, Social Security numbers, ethnicity and gender. NWFSC announced that no student academic files were compromised.

The data exposed/stolen about employees included full names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, banking direct-deposit account numbers, addresses, phone numbers, and college email addresses. A breach investigation is ongoing, where NWFSC has hired an unnamed technology consultant, and is working with local law enforcement. According to a press release:

"The college is coordinating its efforts with the Division of Florida Colleges in the Department of Education to formally notify all students impacted by the data breach."

Northwest Florida State College has contracted with an external consultant, to ensure the college’s data remains safe and secure. Further, the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office cybercrimes unit continues to investigate the matter with assistance from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

NWFSC advises affected persons:

"... individuals who notice improper use of their Social Security number and believe they may be the victim of identity theft should contact the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov/idtheft or at 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338). Affected persons may also call the local sheriff’s office and file a police report of identity theft, keeping a copy of the police report."

In an Oct. 8, 2012 memo to employees (Adobe PDF), NWFSC said:

"... one or more hackers accessed one folder on our main server. This folder had multiple files on it. No one file had a complete set of personal information regarding individuals. However, by working between files, the hacker(s) have been able to piece together enough information to be able to engage in the theft of identity of at least 50 employees..."

The memo to employees outlined three specific identity theft and fraud actions by the thieves:

"The first is to use PayDayMax, Inc. as a conduit for taking out a personal loan which is repaid by debiting your bank account. The second is the same process using Discount Advance Loans. The third is to apply for a Home Depot Credit Card in an employee’s name and then use that card..."

Given this active identity fraud, both students and employees should take the threat seriously, and take immediate actions to check their credit reports at the three major credit-reporting agencies; and place a Fraud Alert or Security Freeze if appropriate. Plus, NWFSC should offer breach victims free credit monitoring and resolution services for at least two years.

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