Doctors angry after laptop stolen

July 26, 2006

Canadian Press

Hundreds of angry doctors and their families are demanding answers from a financial services company after a laptop containing thousands of personal files was stolen from a car in a parking lot.

"I'm furious," said one of the clients, who asked not to be identified. "We trust these people with virtually all our financial information."

About 8,000 clients of MD Management, a subsidiary of the Canadian Medical Association, received a letter from the company dated June 29 warning them that a laptop computer containing detailed information about their financial and professional circumstances had been stolen.

The computer was taken from an MD Management employee's locked car during a break-in, said Guy Belanger, president of the MD Financial Group. Latest Comments Comments

"The car was in a shopping centre parking lot," he said. "The window was smashed. The contents of the car were stolen, including the laptop."

Earlier that day, the employee had downloaded extensive information onto the laptop.

"There were several thousand files, clients of our Edmonton-area regional office," Belanger said.

Once the employee contacted head office, officials checked source files to determine what information had been copied. The files include such identifying information as names, ages and addresses as well as professional and financial information.

"Part of me wants to laugh . it's just so stupid," said the client, who's so careful about her privacy that she uses a paper shredder at home on any potentially revealing documents.

"But it's my personal information and a lot of other people's information that's been compromised. I don't know in six months or a year down the road if two or three other people will be trying to get a driver's licence or a passport in my name."

Belanger said the information was protected by password. He added there is no evident to suggest the thieves targeted the laptop, nor is there any indication the information has been used.

"The police considered this to be a random theft."

MD Management has hired a private investigator to try to track down the laptop. And the company is taking precautions to try to keep the information from being used for fraudulent purposes by contacting Canada's two credit bureaus, Equifax and TransUnion.

Those bureaus will flag the files for as long as six years, telling financial institutions to double-check the identity of anyone using the information.

"I've talked to several hundred clients over the last few weeks to reassure them and tell them how seriously we take this," Belanger said.

Edmonton police and Alberta's privacy commission are investigating the theft.

MD Management, part of a group of companies that offer various financial services to Canadian doctors and their families, is reviewing its policies on what information may be downloaded in what circumstances and by which employees.

"It was obvious from this particular theft that there is room for improvement," Belanger said.

"This was an employee error. But we want to make it as foolproof as possible. The privacy of our clients is paramount."

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