Banks Notify Customers of Data Theft

By PAUL NOWELL, AP Business WriterMon May 23,11:06 PM ET

More than 100,000 customers of Wachovia Corp. and Bank of America Corp. have been notified that their financial records may have been stolen by bank employees and sold to collection agencies.

In all, nearly 700,000 customers of four banks may be affected, according to police in Hackensack, N.J., where the investigation was centered.

So far, Bank of America has alerted about 60,000 customers whose names were included on computer disks discovered by police, bank spokeswoman Alex Liftman said Monday.

"We are trying to communicate with our customers as promptly as possible," she said. "So far, we have no evidence that any of our customer information has been used for account fraud or identity theft."

Wachovia said it has identified 48,000 current and former account holders whose accounts may have been breached.

"The numbers have increased as we continue to receive additional names from police," Wachovia spokeswoman Christy Phillips said Monday.

Both banks are providing the affected customers with free credit reporting services.

In a separate case with the potential for identity theft, a laptop containing the names and Social Security numbers of 16,500 current and former MCI Inc. employees was stolen last month from the car of an MCI financial analyst in Colorado, said company spokeswoman Linda Laughlin.

The car was parked in the analyst's home garage and the computer was password-protected, she said. MCI would not comment on whether the data was encrypted.

The bank record theft was exposed April 28 when police in Hackensack charged nine people, including seven bank workers, in an alleged plot to steal financial records of thousands of bank customers.

The bank employees accessed records for customers of Cherry Hill, N.J.-based Commerce Bank, PNC Bank of Pittsburgh, and Charlotte-based banks Wachovia and Bank of America, according to Hackensack Police Chief Ken Zisa.

Repeated calls seeking comment were not returned by Commerce Bank officials, while PNC officials declined to estimate how many of their customers' accounts may have been breached.

"We have no evidence that any of these accounts have been compromised at all. We continue to work with law enforcement officials," said Pat McMahon, a spokesman for PNC.

New Jersey authorities found 12 names and Social Security numbers belonging to PNC customers but the bank found no suspicious activity in the accounts, he said.

Collection agent Orazio Lembo Jr., 35, of Hackensack made millions of dollars through the scheme, Zisa has said.

Authorities said they discovered the plot after they executed a search warrant at Lembo's apartment in February as part of a separate investigation. They seized 13 computers which contained details about the plan, Zisa said.

Lembo received lists of people sought for debt collection and turned that information over to the seven bank workers, who would compare those names to their client lists. The bank workers were paid $10 for each account they turned over to Lembo, Zisa said.

In New Jersey, continued scrutiny of computer discs seized from Lembo's offices was yielding more names. Investigators have now identified nearly 700,000 potential victims, Hackensack police Capt. Frank Lomia said Monday.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.

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[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: Geeze, I can remember back in the 1970's when the worst thing you had to worry about with the banks was when one of them (First National Bank of Chicago comes to mind) would commit _postal fraud_ by riffling through mail not addressed to themselves, open the mail and pocket any cash money they found. I was forced to file a Small Claims case against First National Bank in Chicago when this _snot_ of a customer service lady refused to return money to me their mailroom employees had pilfered. (circa 1974- 1975). If you want more details, just ask. PAT]
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Lisa Minter
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