- The Washington Times - Monday, May 23, 2005

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — More than 100,000 customers of Wachovia Corp. and Bank of America Corp. have been notified of the theft of their financial records by bank employees.

The records were sold to collection agencies by bank workers in New Jersey, said police in Hackensack, N.J.

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 say whether the data was encrypted.

Bank of America, the second-largest U.S. banking company, sent out notification letters to 60,000 customers, spokeswoman Alex Liftman said yesterday.

“We are communicating with customers as quickly as possible,” Ms. Liftman said.

So far, the Charlotte, N.C., company has found no evidence that the customers’ information has been used for fraud, she said.

About 75 percent of the Bank of America customers affected are from New Jersey, Ms. Liftman said.

The theft was exposed last month when police in Hackensack, N.J., charged nine persons — a business owner, a New Jersey state worker and seven bank workers — in a 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, Wachovia and Bank of America, according to Hackensack police.

Most of the victims live in New Jersey, said police Capt. Frank Lomia.

All of the victims opened their bank accounts in New Jersey, but an undisclosed number have moved to Maryland, Georgia, Florida and the Carolinas, Capt. Lomia said. He would not say how many customers had moved to Maryland.

Wachovia also sent out 48,000 letters to current and former account holders that their Social Security number and name might have been breached.

The Charlotte, N.C., banking company set up a toll-free fraud assistance number, said spokeswoman Christy Phillips.

“We have not received any evidence from our internal investigations or customers that the information has been used for identity theft or fraud purposes,” Ms. Phillips said.

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

Authorities discovered the plot after they executed a search warrant for the apartment of Orazio Lembo, 35, of Hackensack, in February as part of a separate investigation. They seized 13 computers.

Mr. Lembo is accused of receiving lists of people sought for debt collection and turning that information over to the seven bank workers, who would compare those names with their client lists.

The bank workers were paid $10 for each account turned over to Mr. Lembo, the police said.

Staff writer Marguerite Higgins contributed to this report.

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