January 18, 2008

Data On 650,000 Credit Card Holders Missing

AP reports that personal information on about 650,000 customers of J.C. Penney and up to 100 other retailers could be compromised after a computer tape went missing. GE Money, which handles credit card operations for Penney and many other retailers, told AP on Thursday night that the missing information includes Social Security numbers for about 150,000 people.

The information was on a backup computer tape that was discovered missing last October. It was being stored at a warehouse run by Iron Mountain Inc. (IRM), a data storage company, and was never checked out but can't be found either, Richard C. Jones, a spokesman for GE Money, part of General Electric Capital Corp told AP.

Jones added that there was "no indication of theft or anything of that sort," and no evidence of fraudulent activity on the accounts involved.

Iron Mountain spokesman Dan O'Neill told AP that it would take specialized skills for someone to glean the personal data from the tape. He said the company regretted losing the tape, "but because of the volume of information we handle and the fact people are involved, we have occasionally made mistakes."

Penney told AP that it had been informed of the situation and referred further inquiries to GE Money.

Jones decidedly declined to identify the other retailers whose customers' information is missing but said "it includes many of the large retail organizations."

Jones added that GE Money was paying for 12 months of credit-monitoring service for customers whose Social Security numbers were on the tape.

GE Money spent the last two months reconstructing the missing tape and identifying the people whose information was lost. Since December, the company has been notifying consumers in batches of several thousand and telling them to phone a call center set up to deal with the breach. The notification is expected to be completed next week, AP reports.

According to AP, Penney's card holder Elizabeth Rich of Everett, Wash., got one of the GE Money letters saying her name, address and account number may have been compromised. She was told her Social Security number was not on the tape. The letter, signed by GE Money President Brent P. Wallace, read in part, "We have no reason to believe that anyone has accessed or misused your information. The pieces of information on the tape would not be enough to open new accounts in your name, and we have implemented internal monitoring to protect your account number from misuse due to this incident." Wallace said in the letter that Penney "was in no way responsible for this incident."

Rich told AP that the Penney name didn't appear on the envelope she received, and she thought it was a credit solicitation when she saw the GE Money return address.

"I think the average consumer has thrown away that GE Money letter because they don't know it's about J.C. Penney," Rich told AP. "Not everybody opens junk mail."

Rich added that she canceled her Penney card immediately.


On the Net:

GE Money

Iron Mountain Inc.