Personal information of supermarket chains' former workers lost

June 2, 2006

Associated Press

A laptop computer containing the pension data of former employees of supermarket chains Stop & Shop, Giant and Tops, including their Social Security numbers, was lost during a commercial flight, according to the supermarkets' parent company.

The U.S. subsidiary of Dutch parent company Royal Ahold and a contractor whose employee lost the computer early last month declined to say how many former supermarket employees were affected.

The former employees were notified by letter last week. The letter said the missing information is used to determine benefit eligibility. It included names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, benefit amounts and related administrative information, the letter said.

A spokesman for Ahold USA said Friday that there were no indications that any of the missing data had been misused, although the case remained under investigation.

The laptop belonging to an Electronic Data Systems employee contained information about retirees and other former employees of Ahold subsidiaries who have pension benefits, Ahold USA spokesman Barry Scher said. Current employees were not affected.

Ahold owns four chains in the Eastern USA: Stop and Stop & Shop Supermarket, Giant Food Stores, Giant Food and Tops Markets.

The four chains have a combined current workforce of about 139,000, according to company websites.

Kimberly Walton, a spokeswoman for EDS, said she could not disclose how many former employees of Ahold subsidiaries were affected because it "would put the information at greater risk."

The computer was password-protected, but the sensitive information was not encrypted, Walton said.

The laptop was lost "and may have been stolen" May 2 during a commercial flight between Philadelphia and Boston, Walton said. She would neither identify the airline nor provide additional details.

The employee violated EDS policy by checking the computer with baggage, rather that taking the computer as carry-on luggage, Walton said.

Walton said the employee was disciplined. She would not elaborate.

The airline, law enforcement and three national credit bureaus were notified about the theft, which has not been solved. A toll-free telephone number has been established to provide information on obtaining free credit reports and free credit monitoring for one year, Scher said.

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