Customers' details lost on stolen laptop

December 7, 2007

The Irish Times

Personal details of up to 60,000 people have been lost by Citizens Advice, it was revealed today.

Bank account numbers, National Insurance numbers, names, addresses and dates of birth were on a laptop stolen from a staff member's car in Belfast earlier this week.

The details are of people who have sought advice from the bureau - but it said they were encrypted and the bureau claimed it was unlikely it could be accessed. Derek Alcorn, chief executive of CAB Northern Ireland, apologised to all of those whose could be affected. The client records involves people from the Belfast area and date back for up to four or five years.

He said: "I want to apologise to all of those concerned and potentially affected by this incident. "We can say that the data on the computer is protected by three levels of security including a high level of encryption. "It is highly unlikely that a criminal will be able to access the data, but people who have used Citizens Advice in the Belfast area should check for anything unusual."

Information on the computer varies from customer to customer, but just like the information on CDs listing Child Benefit recipients which were lost by Revenue & Customs recently, it includes name, address, date of birth and national insurance number - and in an unknown number of cases the client's bank account number.

But Mr Alcorn said: "We believe the information, even if it were accessed, would not on its own allow access to a bank account because banks require other security information and passwords."

The theft took place on Wednesday and both the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Information Commissioner were informed. Everyone whose details were on the computer will also be written to by the CAB. Mr Alcorn said a number of other steps had been taken.

- A helpline - 0800 0304138 - has been set up to advise people who may be affected. It will be staffed over the weekend from 10.00am to 4.00pm.

- Information is also on the CAB website -

- An external and high level review of policies, procedures and data protection within Citizens Advice will be commissioned from a person or firm of sufficient standing and expertise.

- The organisation has, and continues to take, legal advice on its obligations.

Mr Alcorn said: "It is a fundamental principle of Citizens Advice that people are able to deal with us in confidence. "The theft of this laptop is highly regrettable, but given that the potential always exists for the theft of data, we have always sought to ensure that information is secured as strongly as possible through modern encryption systems."

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