Local student loan company alerts borrowers of theft

November 25, 2004

By Ralph K.M. Haurwitz, Cox News Service


A Waco-based student loan company has warned thousands of borrowers across the country that their names, Social Security numbers and other personal information might have fallen into the wrong hands.

Brazos Higher Education Service Corp., a non-profit organization, said it sent letters to the customers warning of potential fraud or identity theft after a company laptop computer was stolen from an employee's home in Maryland in late September.

Ellis Tredway, the company's executive vice president, said the number of letters exceeds 100,000, but he declined to give a precise figure.

The letters recommend borrowers post security alerts on their credit files and give instructions on how to do so. The borrowers for the most part are former students, and they could have attended almost any public or private college in the nation, Tredway said.

Brazos is one of the largest holders of federally guaranteed education loans with more than $7 billion in assets. The laptop did not contain information on all of the company's borrowers but all were contacted because it was not possible to determine whose information was on the computer and whose was not, Tredway said.

There is no indication the information has been put to improper or fraudulent use, he said. Jewelry and other electronic items were also taken from the home of the employee, who is a financial analyst for the company.

"The police and our security firm do not think this was a burglary designed to get access to information," Tredway said. "They think it was a random home burglary. The most important thing a borrower can do is notify one of the credit bureaus and put a fraud alert on that account."

Besides names and Social Security numbers, the laptop contained borrowers' loan amounts and addresses. The incident has prompted Brazos to revise its security procedures, Tredway said.

The Brazos Higher Education Service Corp. is affiliated with the Brazos Higher Education Authority, which formed locally in the 1970s and made thousands of loans to students, including those at Baylor University and Texas State Technical College.

Gathered together with several other higher education authorities and lending corporations, the so-called Brazos Group has offices in Austin, Waco and Plano as well as San Juan Capistrano, Calif.; Jonesboro, Ark.; Vienna, Va.; and Miami.

Last month, computers containing confidential information on thousands of Wells Fargo & Co. mortgage and student loan customers were stolen. It was the third theft in about a year of computers containing such data on Wells Fargo customers.

The Tribune-Herald contributed to this story.

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