FBI Probes Theft of Justice Dept. Data

June 1, 2005

By Jonathan Krim, Washington Post Staff Writer


The FBI is investigating the theft of a laptop computer containing travel account information for as many as 80,000 Justice Department employees, but it is unclear how much personal data are at risk of falling into the wrong hands.

Authorities think the computer was stolen between May 7 and May 9 from Omega World Travel of Fairfax, which is one of the largest travel companies in the Washington area and does extensive business with government agencies.

Justice Department spokeswoman Gina Talamona said the data included names and account numbers from travel account credit cards issued to government employees by J.P Morgan Chase & Co. and its subsidiary Bank One Corp.

She said the information did not include Social Security numbers or home addresses that often are used by identity thieves to establish credit or to purchase goods in other people's names.

In addition, she said the account information was protected by passwords, although sophisticated hackers often can break into stored databases.

Omega World Travel officials declined to comment on how the laptop was stolen or other elements of the case, as did the FBI, which is investigating.

The theft is one of a spate of incidents over the past several months that have resulted in sensitive data on millions of U.S. consumers being stolen or exposed.

In December, Bank of America Corp. lost computer tapes containing records on 1.2 million federal workers, including several U.S. senators.

Talamona said that no Justice Department worker has reported suspicious activity on his or her financial accounts since the incident.

The banks issuing the travel cards have placed alerts on the workers' accounts, Talamona said.

She added that Omega World Travel has agreed to several changes to its security practices, including beefing up physical security at its offices, conducting a computer security review and ensuring that the stolen computer cannot be reconnected to the firm's network.

The travel cards have not been canceled, Talamona said.

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