Bank data stolen out of exec.s vehicle

December 6, 2006

By Michael D. Sorkin, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Banks like to advertise how careful they are with customer information. Premier Bank is no exception. Its executives recall just one time when they left account data in a parked vehicle.

That was the evening of Nov. 16. Dozens of employees were gathered at the Chase Park Plaza hotel to watch as Premier became the first bank to receive a Missouri Chamber of Commerce Award as one of the state's fastest growing businesses.

With the bankers inside celebrating, a thief was outside working. One of the vehicles broken into that night in the hotel garage was a GMC truck owned by Premier's vice president and chief financial officer.

Taken from the truck was a bound, blue book about the size of a laptop computer. It contained paper reports with the names and account numbers of 1,800 customers who had opened Premier accounts in October.

Bank executives said Tuesday they have written letters to the customers, advising them to monitor those accounts for the next 12 to 24 months.

The bank says the stolen papers contained no information that would put any accounts in jeopardy. And there have been no reports of thefts.

But the missing names and account numbers were enough to require notifying customers and the FBI, said Mike Anderson, bank president and chief operating officer.

"It's amazing to me that this happened the one time we did it," Anderson said. "This just doesn't happen in Columbia and Jefferson City," he said. "A lot of people still leave their doors open here."

Premier's headquarters is in Jefferson City. The privately held bank has $1.1 billion in assets and more than a dozen offices in Columbia, Mo., St. Charles and St. Louis counties, the Lake of the Ozarks and Texas.

"I guess you could debate whether we should have had" the information in the truck, Anderson said. "Obviously, we have changed our procedure; none of the reports will be out of the bank now."

The thief also stole a $250,000 non-negotiable bank certificate, $400 in cash and a black leather jacket valued at $250, according to St. Louis police. Another vehicle was stolen from outside the hotel that night, stripped and later recovered.

After the break-in, the bank's security consultant hired a private investigator to search trash bins for the stolen records.

"I said we would do everything in our power to get that back by the end of that weekend," Anderson said. "That didn't happen. But we tried hard."

Failing to find the records, the bank re-created the stolen data and on Nov. 25, notified the customers, said Keith Monson, senior vice president and chief compliance officer.

He said there have been few complaints, although a small number of customers were angry.

One is Todd ONeill of Wildwood, who opened a certificate of deposit in October. A bank representative told him his money is safe. "We won't give them your money," she told him.

ONeill questioned why the bank would take information about his account out of the office.

Anderson says the bankers had planned to use the papers at a meeting the next morning to discuss new accounts.

He said the bank has flagged all 1,800 accounts and is monitoring them.

Without Social Security numbers or other personal information, Anderson said, he doubts a thief could get into the accounts.

"We know our customers," Anderson said. "If somebody came in with an account number, they are not going to get anywhere. Except maybe to jail."

Hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of people are victims of identity theft each year. Earlier this year, a staffer at the Department of Veteran Affairs reported the theft of his laptop computer containing confidential data for 26 million veterans.

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