Chain reports stolen laptop to employees

August 17, 2006

By Pia Sarkar, Chronicle Staff Writer

About 1,200 employees at Williams-Sonoma may be at risk of identify theft after a laptop computer containing personal information was stolen from an auditor.

The San Francisco home-furnishing chain sent an e-mail to current and former employees earlier this month alerting them to the theft.

"Although the information contained on the computer was not encrypted, it was password protected," the letter stated. "Despite this level of protection, the potential does exist that your personal information may be accessed and/or disclosed by unauthorized individuals."

Williams-Sonoma said it has arranged free credit monitoring for its employees.

The laptop was stolen July 10 from the Los Angeles apartment of a Deloitte & Touche employee who was conducting an annual audit of Williams-Sonoma's financial statements.

The Wilshire Division of the Los Angeles Police Department is investigating. Company spokeswoman Patricia Sellman said the laptop, which contains payroll information, including employee Social Security numbers, has not been recovered.

Deloitte & Touche offered little comment other than a short statement acknowledging the theft. "We are cooperating on this matter with Williams-Sonoma and we are not aware of any unauthorized use of the data," the statement said.

Neither Williams-Sonoma nor Deloitte & Touche would say why it is necessary to include the personal information of employees when conducting an audit.

The incident is one in a string of recent laptop thefts that have raised concerns about security. Chevron Corp. sent an e-mail to all its U.S. employees after a laptop was stolen this month from an employee of an independent public accounting firm who was auditing the oil company's employee savings, health and disability plans.

Other cases include the theft of a laptop containing data for 26.5 million veterans from the Maryland home of a Department of Veterans Affairs employee and the disappearance of a laptop containing the names and addresses of 160,000 Kaiser Permanente members in Northern California from a Kaiser office in Oakland.

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