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A laptop computer stolen? The risk of identity theft high? Social security numbers and other confidential informaiton compromised? Sounds familiar doesn’t it? Was this the Veterans Affairs incident? The Federal Trade Commission incident? Something else? The story sounds eerily similar. Information on a laptop containing names, addresses, birthdates, and social security numbers of over 133,000 people has been stolen. On August 10, 2006, yet another computer belonging to our government was stolen. Only this time, the laptop computer belonged to the Department of Transportation (DOT) placing hundreds of thousands of Florida residents’ identities at risk. The DOT mentioned nothing about why its employee found it necessary to take 133,000 names and social security numbers somewhere outside the office. Also, the DOT provided no public comments about why the data was not encrypted. The DOT could have minimized the risk of identity theft by simply restricting access to sensitive data, requiring password protection and maintaining data encryption.

According to the Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General (OIG),

[T]he laptop was password-protected and contained four databases with personal information on about 42,792 Florida pilots, 80,667 Miami-Dade County commercial driver’s license (CDL) holders and 9,496 people who received their driver’s licenses and/or CDLs from the Largo, Fla., licensing examining facility near Tampa. No financial or medical information was on the laptop, the OIG said.

If you find yourself a possible victim of identity theft as a result of this incident, be advised that you should immediately contact each credit reporting agency to place fraud alerts on your credit report immediately. You can place a fraud alert and renew it each ninety days at no cost. However, in order to ensure fraud alerts are renewed automatically every ninety days with each credit reporting agency, you should consider using a commercial service which may cost an average of ten dollars per month. The three major credit reporting agencies contact information is as follows:

Trans Union, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92634 (800) 680-7289
Experian, P.O. Box 9530, Allen, TX 75013 (888) 397-3742
Equifax, P.O. Box 105069, Atlanta GA 30348 (800) 525-6285

Until corporations and government agencies require employees to treat sensitive information securely, I am afraid that we have not seen the last of this type of problem in the future.

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