Tuesday, May 23, 2006

If you're a US veteran, your data have been stolen

Bad news for some 26 million US veterans: their names, Social Security numbers and birth dates are among the data that were compromised when a laptop with an external drive was stolen in Maryland some three weeks ago. Identity theft on a gigantic scale now is another problem the US armed forces have to worry about.

As the Department of Veteran Affairs announces on its website, an employee took the data home (a violation of the Department's policy), and his home was burglarized. As CNN reports, the loss was kept secret for three weeks in order not to alert the thieves of the content of their booty, fearing that they might then try to sell it to interested parties.

Some 26.5 million veterans and some of their spouses are concerned, apparently every living veteran discharged between 1975 and the present. The Department has set up a major information operation, including a call centre, to provide information. The call centre can handle up to 260000 calls per day, so if everyone calls — well, you can do the maths for yourself.

Law makers have expressed concern about the stolen data. As the New York Times writes, the problem is that the data concerned may enable the thief "to begin trying to open new accounts, secure loans, buy property and otherwise wreak havoc on the victim's credit history."

As regular readers of this blog will know, this is only the latest in a long string of incidents of major data theft, including as victims US firm ChoicePoint, Lexis-Nexis subsidiary Seisint, Bank of America, Retail Ventures subsidiary DSW Shoe Warehouse, the hotel chain Marriott, and the Pentagon.

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