Wells Fargo warns of possible data theft

May 5, 2006

By Jonathan Stempel, Reuters


Wells Fargo & Co., the second-largest U.S. mortgage lender, Friday said a computer containing confidential data about mortgage customers and prospective customers is missing and may have been stolen.

San Francisco-based Wells Fargo, which is also the No. 5 U.S. bank and serves more than 23 million customers, said a "global express shipping company" had been delivering the computer from one of the bank's facilities to another.

The missing data include names, addresses, Social Security numbers and mortgage loan deposit numbers. Wells Fargo said there is no indication that anyone has misused the data, or accessed the data without authorization.

It also said the computer has two security levels, making criminal activity difficult. Law enforcement officials believe "this may have been a theft for the hardware, not for information," it said.

Alejandro Hernandez, a spokesman for Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, declined to say how many customers are affected, which delivery company is involved, when the data went missing, or when the bank learned about the problem.

"We apologize about the situation and want to work with customers to reduce any potential risk," Hernandez said in an interview.

Many U.S. companies, including Citigroup Inc., Bank of America Corp., Wachovia Corp. and Washington Mutual Inc., have in recent months reported the theft or loss of customer data.

Personal information of tens of millions of people has been compromised, though not necessarily used.

Hernandez said Wells Fargo is offering affected customers a one-year credit monitoring service at no cost and setting up a dedicated phone line. The bank began alerting customers by mail on Friday, he said.

Wells Fargo made $366 billion of residential real estate loans in 2005, and another $91 billion from January to March.

Countrywide Financial Corp. , the largest mortgage lender, said it originated $495 billion of loans last year.

Perhaps the biggest security breach involving customer data concerned CardSystems Solutions Inc. That company last year exposed holders of some 40 million credit cards to possible identity theft. CardSystems was later acquired.

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