Missing: Lifeblood laptops with personal info on thousands of donors

February 13, 2008

By Mary Powers


Laptop computers with the birth dates and other personal information of roughly 321,000 blood donors are missing and the Mid-South.s primary blood supplier is warning individuals to take steps to protect themselves.

The advice is contained in letters that Lifeblood, Mid-South Regional Blood Center, is sending to anyone who donated or attempted donate blood as far back as 1990.

Along with an apology, the letter signed by Dr. Edward Scott urges donors to place a fraud alert with credit reporting agencies and check their credit reports. Scott is Lifeblood.s president and chief executive officer.

The first 50,000 letters were mailed Tuesday, more than three months after Lifeblood staff noticed that a laptop used on mobile blood drives hadn't been activated in weeks.

The discovery sparked an internal search that uncovered a second missing laptop, said Jennifer Balink, a Lifeblood spokeswoman.

There was no sign of a break-in, said Det. Monique Martin, a Memphis Police Department spokeswoman.

On Wednesday, Scott said he and other senior staff were told about the missing computers on January 4. "There were some missed opportunities," Scott said of the delay, including the chance to alert donors sooner.

"There were individuals trying to find the equipment. That wasn't very effective in retrospect."

Stored inside both computers were donor names, birth dates and addresses at the time of the individual.s last donation or attempted donation.

In most cases, Balink said the donor's Social Security number was also stored, along with driver's license and telephone numbers, e-mail address as well as ethnic, marital status, blood type and cholesterol levels.

The stored information didn.t include results of AIDS or other disease screening tests routinely conducted on donor blood, Scott said.

"We are concerned that the computers have been stolen, but we feel that it is most likely that they were taken in order to be pawned for cash, not for access to data," Scott wrote in his letter to donors. "However, we cannot assume that attempts to access the personal data have not or will not occur."

Scott said a 2005 state law requires individuals be notified if personal information, including names, addresses and Social Security numbers, is missing or stolen.

Lifeblood is mailing 50,000 letters per day, beginning with the most recent donors. Scott said the process will take about a week.

The Memphis Police Department.s economic crimes bureau is investigating.

Lifeblood also hired a private investigator in an effort to find the computers. It's also tightened security and offered a $10,000 reward to its staff if the laptops were returned without the information being accessed. It is now offering a $5,000 reward through Crime Stoppers.

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