Friday, February 20, 2009
Food Bank Clients Facing ID Theft Risk
By Melanie Dabovich
An Albuquerque food bank is warning its clients that tens of thousands of them are at risk for identity theft after a laptop computer containing their personal information was stolen last week.
The Rio Grande Food Project said the computer contained sensitive personal data including addresses, birth dates and Social Security numbers of 36,000 clients. The food bank is warning them to take precautions to guard against identity theft.
"We're just really distressed and upset that this had happened to us and our clients," said David Whiteley, the food bank's executive director. "Many are struggling to make ends meet, and for them to be a victim of identity theft would be heartbreaking."
Agency officials are sending letters in English and Spanish to all clients over the past three years with current addresses regarding the identity theft risk, but Whitely said they are concerned that some clients may not receive the letters.
He said that, so far, there is no indication the client information is being misused.
"The best thing they can do as a precautionary measure is to call one of the three national credit bureaus and place a fraud alert on their credit line," he said.
The initial fraud alert lasts for 90 days, according to the Federal Trade Commission. People can then order a free credit report to check for suspicious activity and continue to monitor their credit for up to a year. If the report reveals misuse, officials recommend filing a police report.
The nonprofit kept information from Social Security cards, state driver's licenses, Mexican identification cards and other forms of ID to track clients, Whiteley said. Since many clients may have used family or household members' Social Security numbers when applying for aid, clients are also urged to warn their families about the risk, he said.
The agency was required to document client's personal information to report demographic date to its funding associations and for grant requirements, Whiteley said.
Whiteley said the agency is looking at ways to track clients without using sensitive information in an effort to secure information in the future.
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