Laptop theft exposes teachers to ID fraud risk

Stolen laptops contain Social Security numbers and other information on Chicago Public Schools employees.
Written by Joris Evers, Contributor
About 40,000 Chicago Public Schools employees are at risk of identity fraud after two laptops containing their personal information were stolen on Friday.

The computers were taken from the CPS headquarters, the organization said in a statement. The laptops belong to accounting firm McGladrey and Pullen and its subcontractor, who were reviewing contributions to the Chicago Teacher Pension Fund, according to the statement.

The computers contain the names and Social Security numbers of employees who contributed to the pension fund between 2003 and 2006, the CPS said. The data does not include addresses, dates of birth or any other personal information, it said.

A CPS official on Monday said the laptops had not yet been recovered. The official couldn't say if there are any indications that the hardware was stolen for the information that's on the machines, or because laptops are expensive, portable items that could be easy to steal.

A subject in the laptop theft has been identified, CPS said. Surveillance video was released to the media and a $10,000 reward offered for information leading to the arrest of the perpetrator or recovery of the stolen data.

There has been a string of data breaches in recent years, many of which were reported publicly because of new disclosure laws. Last week the University of California at San Francisco said a possible computer security breach may have put 46,000 campus and medical center faculty, staff and students at risk of identity fraud.

In 2005, UC Berkeley warned more than 98,000 people that the theft of a laptop from its graduate school admissions office exposed their personal information. That laptop was later recovered.

Since early 2005, more than 150 million personal records have been exposed in dozens of incidents, according to information compiled by the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

Identity fraud continues to top the complaints reported to the Federal Trade Commission. Such complaints, which include credit card fraud, bank fraud, as well as phone and utilities fraud, accounted for 36 percent of the total 674,354 complaints submitted to the FTC and its external data contributors in 2006.

CPS will pay for one year of credit protection for any current or former employee affected by the theft, it said.

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