Old Mutual client-data are stolen

July 25, 2006

By Shefali Anand, Wall Street Journal


It is the latest instance of a lost laptop triggering concern about identity theft.

Old Mutual Capital Inc., a midsize distributor of mutual funds, has sent letters to 6,500 fund shareholders informing them that a laptop was stolen that contained personal information about clients' names, addresses, account numbers and in some cases Social Security numbers. Old Mutual Capital, a subsidiary of United Kingdom-based financial-services firm Old Mutual PLC, is a distributor of funds of Old Mutual and its affiliates.

A spokesman for the company said the theft, which took place in late May, affects "slightly more than two percent of the shareholder base." He added that to date there have been "no instances of inappropriate attempts to access accounts" and "no discernible signs of identity-theft activity."

The incident is another in a spate personal-data leaks over the last year and a half. In May, computer equipment was stolen from the home of a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs analyst containing personal information of nearly 26 million people. And in March, mutual-fund giant Fidelity Investments reported a stolen laptop containing information for about 196,000 current and former workers of Hewlett-Packard Co., for whom it manages a 401(k) retirement and pension plan.

Fidelity provided affected H-P employees with a year's free service of credit-monitoring, and has since taken steps to "add additional security measures" says a Fidelity spokeswoman. This includes increased encryption of Fidelity laptops, and training of its personnel on laptop security.

The stolen equipment containing veterans information has since been recovered and the FBI has said that it is highly confident that the information stored on the laptop was not accessed or compromised.

Laptops in particular seem to be a weak link in the storage of personal information at corporations. According to Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a consumer group, at least 46 instances of laptops containing sensitive information have been reported stolen or missing since March last year.

One Old Mutual shareholder who received a letter alerting him to the stolen laptop is Orlando, Fla.-based Joshua Loory, 48 years old. "I'm just flabbergasted that a company would be so lax as to keep personal information of that sort on a laptop," Mr. Loory said.

In its letter, the company tells clients that it has put into place additional security measures to protect against the possibility that criminals use the information to gain access to users' accounts. The company is also providing affected clients with free access for a year to a service that monitors their credit reports for suspicious activity.

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