Laptop containing information on 100,000 people stolen

March 28, 2005

By Michael Liedtke, AP Business Writer

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- A thief has stolen a computer laptop containing personal information about nearly 100,000 University of California, Berkeley alumni, graduate students and past applicants, continuing a recent outbreak of security breakdowns that has illustrated society's growing vulnerability to identity theft.

University officials announced the March 11 theft on Monday under a state law requiring that consumers be notified whenever their Social Security numbers or other sensitive information has been breached.

Notifying all of the 98,369 people affected by the UC Berkeley laptop theft could prove difficult because some of the students received their doctorate degrees nearly 30 years ago, university officials said.

The laptop -- stolen from a restricted area of a campus office -- contained the Social Security numbers of UC Berkeley students who received their doctorates from 1976 through 1999, graduate students enrolled at the university between fall 1989 and fall 2003 and graduate school applicants between fall 2001 and spring 2004. Some graduate students in other years also were affected.

The stolen computer files also included the birth dates and addresses of about one-third of the affected people.

University police suspect the thief was more interested in swiping a computer than people's identities, UC Berkeley spokeswoman Maria Felde said. She said there been no evidence so far that the stolen information has been used for identify theft. Scam artists often use the data to borrow money by posing as someone else.

The UC Berkeley theft follows several other high profile instances in which businesses and colleges have lost control of personal information that they kept in computer databases.

Recent breaches have occurred at ChoicePoint Inc., a consumer data firm duped into distributing personal information about 145,000 people; Lexis-Nexis, where computer hackers obtained access to the personal information of 32,000 people; and Chico State University, where a computer hacking job exposed 59,000 people to potential identity theft.

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