Bank says customer data may have been stolen

December 22, 2006

Peter Hull

Bank of America, one of the region's largest financial institutions, said this week that Social Security numbers and other information about an undisclosed number of its Charleston-area customers may have been stolen.

The Charlotte-based financial giant declined to say how many people were affected or what areas they live in, but it said it has notified all of them of the suspected breach in writing.

The ill-gotten personal information also includes names, addresses and telephone numbers, the company said.

Bank of America said it is working closely with law enforcement officials as part of an ongoing investigation.

"The security of clients' information remains a key priority for us," said company spokeswoman Nicole Nastacie.

In a letter to a Charleston customer dated Dec. 14, the bank said that it "recently learned that some of your personal information may have been obtained by unauthorized persons for the purpose of engaging in fraudulent activity."

An unidentified former contractor for Bank of America is believed to be responsible, according to the letter.

The bank has offered the affected customers two years of free credit monitoring to help them detect fraudulent activity in their accounts. They were advised to closely watch their credit for at least the next 12 to 24 months.

Emilie Costikyan, a Charleston-based identity-theft risk-management specialist, said personal information breaches and other compromised identity issues have become a widespread problem. At last count, they have touched the lives of 100 million people nationwide, she said.

"That's one in three Americans," Costikyan said.

At a minimum, she suggested consumers monitor their credit regularly. Often, the longer people wait to correct a problem, the harder it can be to repair their credit history, Costikyan said.

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