Source: Associated Press
January 12, 2006
STAMFORD -- A tape containing the Social Security numbers and other confidential data of 90,000 People's Bank customers was lost recently while en route to a credit reporting bureau, state and bank officials said Wednesday.
Millions of people around the country have been affected by a recent string of data losses and thefts involving major financial institutions and businesses including Citigroup Inc., Time Warner Inc. and Ameritrade Holding Corp.
People's has no reason to believe the data has been used inappropriately and has received no reports of unauthorized activity, officials said. Customers do not need to close accounts because the information is not sufficient to allow unauthorized access, the bank said.
But consumer advocates say identity thieves could use Social Security numbers to open new accounts in the names of those affected.
They say such data should be encrypted so it cannot be illegally accessed and they advocate new laws that would allow consumers to place fraud or security alerts on their credit reports to prevent thieves from creating accounts.
"I am extremely concerned when I hear about data breaches involving Social Security numbers," said Susanna Montezemolo, policy analyst with Consumers Union, one of the nation's leading consumer-activist groups.
The Bridgeport-based bank, which is notifying affected customers, said the tape was lost recently while UPS was taking it to TransUnion, a credit reporting bureau. UPS is investigating, said spokeswoman Susan Rosenberg.
The missing tape contains information about personal credit line accounts such as names, addresses, Social Security and checking account numbers. It does not contain checking account balances, debit card numbers, personal identification numbers or birth dates. Equity credit lines and other People's accounts are not affected, the bank said.
The computer tape was not encrypted but cannot be read without sophisticated equipment and software, according to the bank, which said it first learned of the incident about a week before Christmas. Officials started notifying customers this week after ensuring the tape could not be found.
"Our customers' privacy is of the utmost importance to us and we take our responsibility to safeguard personal information very seriously," said Bryan Huebner, executive vice president of Consumer Financial Services. "While we consider misuse of the personal information to be highly unlikely as a result of this incident, we deeply apologize for any concerns this incident may cause our customers."
People's said it will pay for one year of credit monitoring service for affected customers. The bank, which also notified federal authorities, plans to start shipping data electronically with encrypted technology.
"This is an isolated incident," said Connecticut Banking Commissioner John P. Burke.
Officials with other institutions involved in similar incidents also have said they had no indication the information was misused.
Last month, a subsidiary of LaSalle Bank Corp. said a tape containing information about 2 million residential mortgage customers around the country was lost as it was being transported from Chicago to Texas.
In June, the consumer finance division of Citigroup Inc. notified nearly 4 million U.S. customers that computer tapes containing information about their accounts - including Social Security numbers and payment histories - had been lost. That incident also involved UPS in transit to a credit bureau.
In May, media and entertainment company Time Warner Inc. said computer backup tapes containing data on 600,000 individuals were lost by an outside data storage firm.
In April, Ameritrade Holding Corp., a leading online discount broker, said it had informed some 200,000 current and former customers that a backup computer tape with personal information had been lost.