February 3, 2006

Boston Globe grapples with credit card blunder

By Svea Herbst-Bayliss

BOSTON (Reuters) - The Boston Globe has been swamped by
nearly 50,000 telephone calls from worried readers since it
accidentally delivered hundreds of thousands of subscribers'
credit card numbers with its newspapers, the paper said on

The Massachusetts attorney general is investigating if laws
were broken and local legislators have seized on last Sunday's
blunder to drum up support for initiatives aimed at better
protecting consumers from identity theft.

Richard Gilman, the Globe's publisher, has apologized to
subscribers after 215,000 credit card numbers were printed on
the back of paper used to wrap newspaper bundles distributed to
newspaper retailers in central Massachusetts.

By Friday afternoon, the newspaper said more than 48,800
subscribers had telephoned the newspaper, forcing its managers
to pull employees from other departments to answer the phones,
according to a report on its Web site.

A Boston Globe spokesman said the number of people
canceling subscriptions to the 134-year-old newspaper since
Tuesday when the mistake was publicly announced has been small,
though he declined to give a figure.

By Friday, unauthorized purchases had been made with only
four credit cards using the private numbers released by the
Globe and its regional publication Worcester Telegram &
Gazette, Globe spokesman Al Larkin said.

But the mistake, coming at a time when confidence in the
media industry has been shaken by several journalism scandals,
could cost the paper some readers, said Robert Zelnick,
chairman of Boston University's journalism department.

"There will be an effect for the Globe," said Zelnick.
"Many readers will not distinguish between administrative
personnel mistakes and mistakes by journalists, and that means
in the short run they will lose some readership."

It also comes at difficult time for the Pulitzer
Prize-winning newspaper that is struggling to hold on to
advertisers and readers amid growing Web-based competition.

The mistake at the city's most respected paper, first
published in 1872, follows errors with customer data reported
at a major U.S. bank and an online brokerage that also stirred
concerns of identity theft.