Day-care workers face risk of ID theft, DCF says

January 4, 2008

By Dave Weber, Sentinel Staff Writer,0,1998446.story

Thousands of Central Florida day-care-center workers could be at risk of identity theft after burglars stole state computers containing personal information.

Although the theft occurred two months ago, the Florida Department of Children and Families is just now notifying about 1,200 day-care providers that their employees, as well as center operations, may be at risk.

Social Security numbers, birth dates and other information about day-care workers in Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties were among the data on five laptop computers that were stolen from the DCF office near Orlando Fashion Square mall in Orlando on Nov. 7-8.

Officials said they don't know how many day-care employees' records were on the stolen computers.

"They could get information on anybody who works in this place. They could get our Social Security numbers," said Tracey Batchelor, a worker at the Children's Garden Learning Center on University Boulevard in Orlando.

Batchelor said the center got the DCF letter earlier this week.

Asked why the agency waited so long to contact those affected, spokeswoman Carrie Hoeppner said DCF wanted to have a complete list of centers before contacting them. She said the agency had 45 days by law to notify those whose records were stolen.

"We wanted to make sure we could notify anyone who may have been impacted," Hoepp- ner said.

She said the agency also was concerned that the thieves might not realize they had potentially valuable data, and did not want to publicize it. Police have not recovered the computers, she said.

Hoeppner said she is unaware of any identity-theft crimes resulting from the computer thefts. But she acknowledged that an identity-theft victim may not have considered the DCF theft as the source of their trouble.

Letters that began turning up at day-care centers this week raised an alarm about the theft's potential consequences.

"Your personal data may have been compromised as a result of this theft," states the letter to day-care centers from John Cooper, DCF's regional director in Central Florida. "While we do not know that the computer was stolen with the intent of misusing the data in some form of identity fraud, that is a possibility."

Cooper suggests in the letter that day-care centers and employees should contact their banks and credit-card companies about the breach of data security. They also should consider placing fraud alerts with one of the three national credit-reporting agencies to prevent swindlers from changing current accounts or opening new ones, Cooper said.

Since the letters began arriving at day-care centers, Hoeppner said, DCF has had four or five calls from concerned workers seeking more details.

The computers contained applications for child-care-center licenses. Centers are required to provide personal information on the applications, including employees' birth dates and Social Security numbers, so DCF can conduct background checks.

An Orlando Police Department report on the theft noted that there were no signs of forced entry at the DCF office.

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