State sends out letters with Social Security numbers visible

September 29, 2006

By Roger Alford, Associated Press

Letters sent to 146,000 government employees in Kentucky inadvertently displayed each of their Social Security numbers on the front, prompting Attorney General Greg Stumbo to issue a warning about possible identity theft.

"The Social Security number is the key that unlocks many doors for identity thieves," Stumbo said in statement. "With that information, an identity thief has access to a host of information about consumers."

The Kentucky Personnel Cabinet sent the letters to employees in state agencies, community and technical colleges, school districts, health departments and other offices covered by the state's insurance program. The letters provided routine information about enrollment in the coverage plan for next year.

The Social Security numbers were included as the first nine digits in 14-digit codes that were clearly visible in the address window of each of the envelopes.

"I'm ultimately responsible, and we'll take responsibility," said Personnel Secretary Brian Crall. "I've instructed our folks that we will not have numbers visible in the windows again."

In a written statement, Stumbo said called the snafu irresponsible.

"The Personnel Cabinet has put our state employees at an increased risk of ID theft," Stumbo said. He said the state should notify "employees whose information has been compromised so they can protect themselves."

Crall said he can't speak to whether the mailing created a risk of identity theft.

"If there is, it's as minimal as it could be," he said.

Charles Wells, executive director of the Kentucky Association of State Employees, said the mailing was a serious breech of privacy.

"It's unfortunate that it's happened," he said. "The main thing we want to see is that the Personnel Cabinet is implementing some sort of procedure to stop it from happening again."

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