School workers' personal data lifted

February 12, 2008

By Merrill Balassone

A computer hard drive holding the names, addresses, birth dates and Social Security numbers of Modesto City Schools' 3,500 employees was stolen early Monday from a Southern California data processing firm, district officials said.

The hard drive and three monitors were stolen at 4:30 a.m. in a "window smash" burglary, said Sgt. Linda King with the Fullerton Police Department. She had no information about witnesses or suspects.

The burglary happened at Systematic Automation Inc. in Fullerton. The firm prints annual, customized statements for each district employee with a sum-mary of his or her health and other employee benefits.

"We want to do the accountable thing, which is to let everyone know so they can take their own steps to protect themselves," Modesto City Schools Superintendent Arturo Flores said.

Director of Business Services Dennis Snelling said no cases of identity theft connected with the data breach have been reported.

"We're keeping an eye out, Snelling said. "We want our people to be able to protect themselves."

Snelling said the district sent the employee information in an encrypted format to Systematic Automation, where it apparently was stored on the computer in an unencrypted format.

Snelling said other agencies had their data compromised in the theft, but he did not have details.

He said this was the only information breach he knew of in his 21 years with the Modesto district. Snelling sent a memo by e-mail and hard copy on paper just before 2 p.m. to warn employees and provide information about how to monitor for fraud.

"There are a lot of very unhappy people," said Ray Duran, vice president of the Modesto Teachers Association. "I just hate to think all my stuff is out there. We know these things happen. We just hope the district will find a way to remedy the problem."

Systematic Automation has been under contract with Mo-desto City Schools for about 10 years, Snelling said.

The company has been in business since 1977, according to records.

Company President Nicholas Seifen said he had been advised not to speak about the incident because of the police investigation.

Sonoma Elementary teacher Judy Pierce said she was pleased at how quickly the district notified district employees and provided steps to help prevent identity theft.

"I think all of us hope in our lifetime we won't be faced with these issues," Pierce said. "But (the district) gave us an entire two pages of steps of who to go to, who to contact. It made it very, very easy for us to follow through on it."

District officials said they plan to look into the security practices of each agency to whichthat receives employee information is sent.

Snelling said the district will contact the Fullerton company about compensation if employees are paying for extra credit reports.

"We'd certainly be taking that up with Systematic Automation," he said. Employees with concerns can contact Louise Baker, supervisor of payroll and benefits, at 576-4192.

main page ATTRITION feedback