Stolen laptop holds data on seniors

December 19, 2007

By Jan Murphy, Patriot News

A state Department of Aging-owned laptop computer containing personal information on nearly 21,000 senior citizens was stolen from a Johnstown home during a Dec. 5 break-in.

The computer was issued to a department employee who works with the agencies on aging in Indiana, Union, Snyder and Clearfield counties.

The employee was attending a funeral when the theft occurred, said Michele Bell Gopinath, a department spokeswoman. Police suspect the computer was taken for its street value, she said.

There have been no reports of misuse of the information, which included names, addresses, Social Security numbers, some medical information and the services clients received, Gopinath said.

The affected seniors are in the process of being notified, and credit protection from TransUnion will be provided for 90 days at a cost to the state of $23,000, she said. Seniors then have the option of having the credit protection extended for a year at the state's expense.

Information on the computer was double password protected, Gopinath said.

When the theft occurred, she said the department was in the process of encrypting computers and has since completed that work to provide additional protection. It also is in the process of centralizing information about clients so that the information does not have to be downloaded onto laptops when employees are out in the field, but that work is not completed, she said.

"We believe this was an isolated incident and that the provisions we've taken with contacting TransUnion and contacting the consumers, should give our consumers and clients a sense of safety," Gopinath said.

This is the third incident in four months where state-owned computers containing personal information of Pennsylvanians have been stolen. The other two thefts involved computers that contained information on more than 375,000 welfare clients.

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