Sunday, February 06, 2005

Your Statements Went Where?

The Washington Post (via Yahoo! News) is carrying a lengthy story about errant bank statements and tax documents. A fellow in Minnesota has been receiving piles of mail from a bank that was meant for various others of its customers. Despite repeatedly sending it back marked "Return to sender. Don't send me other people's banking information," the problem persisted.

While accidents do happen, the bigger problem is the inattention to the problem on the part of the bank and the amount of effort that it finally took to get it to stop.

Yahoo! News - Your Statements Went Where?

...Because of a few wayward keystrokes by a clerk at a bank processing center, Pirozzi has for nine months received the financial statements of scores of strangers, many of whom are Washington area residents and all of whom had had Wachovia Corp. escrow accounts.

Pirozzi tried desperately to get the problem fixed once the first batch arrived last spring, but he says that no one at the bank or at a local title company that helped establish the accounts took action on his repeated calls. It was only in the past few weeks, after Pirozzi began receiving strangers' tax forms and after inquiries from a Washington Post reporter, that both companies began to investigate.

"I potentially have access to their Social Security (news - web sites) numbers and their names. I also have their bank account numbers. That's very private information," Pirozzi said. "I don't know what I could do with all of that -- I don't have a criminal mind. But there are definitely opportunities."

Privacy experts agree.

"This is a raft of sensitive financial information that would be an identity thief's dream," said Travis Plunkett, legislative director of the Consumer Federation of America.

Experiences like Pirozzi's are rare in an industry that depends on sophisticated computers and software to shuffle billions of transactions a day. But it nevertheless points to the vulnerabilities in systems that have become so highly automated that small errors in the management of databases can quickly become amplified into major security breaches, consumer advocates say. They say, too, that the lack of a prompt response from the companies involved reflects a broader problem with financial institutions not doing all they can to safeguard their clients' private information.

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