Identity data stolen along with laptop

June 24, 2006

Reed Williams

A laptop containing the personal information of more than 200 people was stolen from a Roanoke-based staff attorney for the federal Social Security Administration.

The computer contained the names, Social Security numbers and, in some cases, medical information of the 228 people whose records may have been compromised, said Mark Lassiter, a spokesman for the Social Security Administration.

At least 37 of the 228 people are from Southwest Virginia.

The March 31 larceny occurred about a month before millions of veterans' personal information was stolen from the home of a data analyst for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

In the case involving the Social Security Administration, the computer was taken in Atlanta, where the attorney was attending a conference. Lassiter said the lawyer reported it stolen about the time he returned to work, April 3 or 4.

The lawyer broke a work-at-home agreement with the agency by taking the laptop to the conference, Lassiter said.

Lassiter declined to identify the lawyer, citing personnel concerns.

Under the work-at-home agreement, certain sensitive information was supposed to have remained locked in a briefcase or otherwise secured when not in use, Lassiter said.

The lawyer still works for the Social Security Administration.

"We're going through the process to determine what the appropriate disciplinary action is," Lassiter said.

The lawyer works at a hearings office in Roanoke. His job is to draft judges' decisions on cases in which people have been turned down for Social Security benefits and have appealed the decision.

He had put the people's information on his personal laptop while drafting the decisions, Lassiter said.

Lassiter said there is no indication that any of the information has been used for identity theft.

"All of the people whose information potentially could have become compromised have been notified," he added.

He said Social Security officials have checked for suspicious activity by investigating whether there are records of any of the 228 people changing their addresses, getting new driver's licenses or having paychecks direct-deposited into different accounts.

The officials found about 30 such cases and contacted each person to make sure he or she was responsible for the activity.

"In all 30 cases it turns out that what we saw were actions that those individuals themselves had taken," Lassiter said.

The 228 people whose information was stolen include 18 from Roanoke, three from Salem, one from Blacksburg, one from Christiansburg, two from Radford, two from Rocky Mount, one from Buchanan, three from Wytheville, four from Pulaski, one from Pearisburg and one from Fincastle.

The laptop has not been recovered, and no one has been arrested.

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