Carrier retirees' info at risk after theft

January 11, 2007

Charley Hannagan

The company that handles pensions for United Technologies Corp., including those of its Carrier Corp. subsidiary in DeWitt, has begun notifying active and retired salaried workers that their personal information may have been compromised by the theft of five laptop computers.

Letters from benefit consultant Towers Perrin, on UTC letterhead, began going out Friday to workers whose personal information may have been on the laptops, said Peter Murphy, speaking for UTC. The breach primarily involves salaried workers, he said.

The laptops were taken from Towers Perrin's offices in Manhattan.

"The confidentiality of employee data is extremely important to us. We treat it very delicately. We would expect and hope our suppliers do likewise," Murphy said.

The theft from Towers Perrin is just the latest in a string of laptop thefts, computer hacking, computer errors and lost documents that has exposed more than 100 million records to identity theft since April 2005, according to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a nonprofit consumer information and advocacy organization.

Towers Perrin reported the laptops missing from its Manhattan offices on Dec. 7, according to an article in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal. New York police arrested a former Towers Perrin employee Dec. 28, but the computers were not recovered, the Journal reported.

The stolen laptops contain "tens of thousands of retirement plan participants in multiple companies," the Journal said.

In a statement to The Post-Standard Wednesday, Towers Perrin said it "deeply" regretted the inconvenience the theft may have caused its clients and their employees.

"We take seriously our commitment to safeguarding our clients’ confidential information,” the company said.

“As soon as we learned of this situation, we immediately began a thorough investigation into the theft in an attempt to identify the responsible individuals, to recover the laptops and to determine what information was on the laptop,” Towers Perrin said.

The company said it is working with police and a private investigation and computer forensics specialty firm. Because of the ongoing investigation, the company would not say how many people might have had their personal information compromised.

While it doesn’t know if the information on the computers was misused, the company said it was looking into additional measures to protect its clients’ employees, including sharing information on identity theft and offering credit monitoring.

Since April 2005, 100,453,858 records have been exposed when information disappeared or was exposed online by benefit consultants, companies, financial consultants, hospitals, municipalities, school districts and universities, according to the privacy clearinghouse.

Thieves can use the information exposed — such as names, addresses, phone and Social Security numbers — to steal someone’s identity.

In December, 382,000 records of current and former Boeing Co. employees were exposed when a laptop left unattended by an employee was stolen. It was a third time in about a year that a Boeing laptop containing employee information was stolen.

In May, a laptop containing information on more than 30 million American veterans, active soldiers and reservists was stolen from the home of an employee of the Department of Veterans Affairs. An investigation by the FBI later found that two teenagers had stolen the laptop, and that the information on it was not taken.

The theft led the VA to grant a $3.7 million contract to a veteran-owned Salina company, Systems Made Simple, to upgrade the VA’s 300,000 computers with enhanced security systems.

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