Lax laptop security is a growing privacy concern



But on the night of April 26, apparently without detection, thieves slipped out of the company’s West Coast operations center with “a number” of laptop computers.

Linda J., who asked that her name not be used since her identity has already been compromised, worked for the company for three months as a grade-school crossing guard. She said those three months are hardly worth the current hassle of calling credit bureaus, creditors and banks to ensure someone doesn’t go on a spending bender using her good name.

“I’m the one that has to take all the responsibility,” she said. “I have to put fraud alerts on all my credit reports. Basically, they are saying their responsibility ended when they sent me a letter.”

Securitas set up a hotline for employees. A spokesman said that more than 100,000 current and former employees got letters and that the company was also contacting credit bureaus.

“The investigation is still ongoing,” the spokesman said.

The theft of laptops loaded with personal information seems to be a thriving business.

I counted more than 11 laptop thefts listed since late April by the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. The thefts affect hundreds of thousands of people. That doesn’t even count thefts of discs, tapes and software files.

“My guess is there are far more incidents that exist than we have in our listing,” said Beth Givens, director of the California-based identity theft watchdog.

The list counts only breaches reported in the media. And a lot of embarrassed companies don’t go out of their way to make their goofs public.

Here’s a sample of more information compromised by laptop thefts:

•Information on Caterpillar employees was stolen from a benefits consultant April 27.

•Patient information was stolen from Highland Hospital in Rochester, N.Y., on May 11 and was sold on eBay.

•Student financial aid information was stolen from Northwestern University on May 20.

•Student Social Security numbers were stolen from a Texas A&M professor on vacation June 18.

•Data on Texas First Bank customers disappeared when a car was stolen in Dallas on June 22.

What this suggests is that some businesses may be too cavalier with consumer data.

Most attention focuses on what consumers can do after they’ve been victimized. Not enough is focused on businesses protecting consumers.

Federal identity theft laws vary depending on the industry..

“We don’t have an overarching identity theft protection law,” Givens said.

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