Hazleton break-in results in stolen laptops and information

Several computers were among items stolen during a recent break-in at a building on the Penn State Hazleton campus, and a subsequent investigation determined that the archives of one of the computers contained personally identifying information. A total of 348 Social Security Numbers were included in a historical document buried in the computer's archives.

Because a number of items were taken in the break-in, it appears that the thieves were targeting the computers, not any information that may have been on them.

"We have no reason to believe that this information was accessed by anyone, but those affected should be alert in the event that an individual attempts to use their identity," said Gary Lawler, chancellor at Penn State Hazleton. "We have sent letters to everyone who may have been affected, to arm them with information and steps to take to lessen their risk of identity theft -- even if that theft is only a remote possibility."

The University's policy in cases such as this is to take a cautionary stance and notify individuals who may have been affected. All of those potentially affected by this break-in have been notified via a letter sent today from the Penn State Hazleton campus. This response is in line with the Pennsylvania Breach of Personal Information Notification Act, which went into effect in 2006 and mandates that the University notify anyone whose personally identifiable information is potentially disclosed when a computer is lost or compromised.

The mailing also includes a brochure detailing how to prevent identity theft. The information was compiled primarily from the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) and the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Web sites.

As of Nov. 17, the Identity Theft Resource Center, a nonprofit organization that works to promote the understanding and prevention of identity theft, reported 435 data breaches on computer systems nationwide, potentially exposing more than 220 million records containing personally identifiable information such as Social Security and credit card numbers during this year alone.

For information about Penn State's efforts to minimize computer security risks, visit the Take Control Web site at http://its.psu.edu/takecontrol/ online.

For more detailed information about identity theft risks and prevention, visit http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/ online.

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Last Updated November 25, 2009