- The Washington Times - Monday, March 29, 2010

MINNEAPOLIS — A company that guarantees federal student loans said Friday that personal data on about 3.3 million people nationwide has been stolen from its headquarters in Minnesota.

Educational Credit Management Corp. said the data included names, addresses, Social Security numbers and dates of birth of borrowers, but no financial or bank account information.

The data was on “portable media” that was stolen sometime last weekend, ECMC said in a statement. Company spokesman Paul Kelash wouldn’t specify what was taken, citing the ongoing investigation, but said there were no indications of any misuse of the data.

The St. Paul-based nonprofit said it discovered the theft last Sunday and immediately contacted law enforcement, and made the theft public when it received permission from authorities. The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is leading the investigation.

ECMC said it has arranged with credit protection agency Experian to provide affected borrowers with free credit monitoring and protection services. Borrowers will be receiving letters from ECMC soon on how to sign up, gain access to fraud resolution representatives, and be provided with identity theft insurance coverage.

“We deeply regret that this incident occurred and the stress it has caused our borrowers and our partners and are doing everything we can to help protect our borrowers’ identity and personal information,” Richard Boyle, president and CEO of ECMC, said in the statement.

ECMC is a contractor for the U.S. Department of Education to provide collection and document management services. It guarantees student loans through the Federal Family Education Loan program, and provides support services for student loans that are in default or bankruptcy. The company can act as the guarantor, loan holder or loan servicer.

Department of Education spokesman Justin Hamilton said protecting student privacy is a top priority.

“We are working with ECMC to make sure that affected individuals are provided with resources to protect their information and to provide with them with identity theft insurance,” Hamilton said. said protecting student privacy is a top priority for the agency.

Those who believe they may be affected were encouraged to visit ECMC’s Web site, www.ecmc.org, or call 1-877-449-3568 beginning Saturday.

According to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, more than 347 million individuals have been affected by data privacy breaches at hundreds of government agencies, universities and businesses since 2005.

Todd Davis, chairman and CEO of identity-protection company LifeLock, said organizations that house private information should strictly limit access to such data, and that individuals should proactively monitor their personal data.

“We all know that our personal information is already out there,” Mr. Davis said. “Our employers, banks, doctors, dentists and yes, our universities have it. In order to best protect our personal information, we need to take proactive measures to help keep it secure. Whether you choose the many free options or take a more aggressive approach and engage an identity theft protection service like LifeLock, consumers need to take action to help reduce their vulnerability.”

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