- The Washington Times - Monday, June 6, 2005

NEW YORK - CitiFinancial, the consumer finance division of Citigroup Inc., said yesterday it has begun notifying about 3.9 million U.S. customers that computer tapes containing information about their accounts — including Social Security numbers and payment histories — have been lost.

Citigroup, which is based in New York, said the tapes were lost by the courier UPS in transit to a credit bureau.

The bank said the tapescontained information about both active and closed accounts at CitiFinancial’s branch network. It said they did not contain information from CitiFinancial Auto, CitiFinancial Mortgage or any other Citigroup business.

The statement said CitiFinancial “had no reason to believe that this information has been used inappropriately, nor has it received any reports of unauthorized activity.”

Norman Black, a spokesman for Atlanta-based UPS, confirmed that the tapes were missing.

“Despite an exhaustive search for this package, we’ve been unable to find it,” Mr. Black said.

It was the latest in a series of data losses or breaches that have forced financial institutions and other data collectors to warn customers that their personal information may be at risk.

Last month, media and entertainment company Time Warner Inc. said computer backup tapes containing data on 600,000 people were lost by an outside data storage firm.

The data covered current and former employees going back to 1986, as well as some of their dependents and beneficiaries, the company said. It did not include personal data on Time Warner customers, the company said.

Also in May, more than 100,000 customers of Wachovia Corp. and Bank of America Corp., both headquartered in Charlotte, N.C., were notified that their financial records may have been stolen by bank employees and sold to collection agencies. And in April, Ameritrade Holding Corp., a leading online discount broker, said it had informed about 200,000 current and former customers that a backup computer tape with personal information had been lost.

Kevin Kessinger, executive vice president of Citigroup’s Global Consumer Group and president of Consumer Finance North America, told the Associated Press that the tapes left CitiFinancial on May 2 and were discovered missing May 20.

Notification of customers was delayed at the request of the Secret Service, which is investigating the loss of the tapes, he said.

Mr. Kessinger said the bank’s letter encouraged consumers to review activity on all their accounts to make sure nothing suspicious was occurring. He said CitiFinancial also was arranging for all affected customers to sign up free of charge with a credit monitoring service for 90 days. And, he said, if a customer is victimized, he or she will receive free help from Citigroup’s identity theft resolution service.

“Clearly, we regret that this happened with our customers,” Mr. Kessinger said. “We’re trying to be upfront — to communicate and to talk about what the issues are.”

CitiFinancial said in its statement that the data loss “occurred in spite of the enhanced security procedures we require of our couriers.”

It said there was little risk of the accounts being compromised because most customers already had received their loans and that no additional credit could be issued without the customers’ approval.

Debby Hopkins, chief operations and technology officer for Citigroup, said the tapes were produced “in a sophisticated mainframe data center environment” and would be difficult to decode without the right equipment and special software.

Miss Hopkins said most Citigroup units send data electronically in encrypted form and that CitiFinancial data will be sent that way starting in July.


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