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Citigroup Reports Loss of Consumer Data

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Whatever else you may get out of Social Security, you get a Social Security number, which is not always a good thing. Citigroup said yesterday that it had lost computer tapes containing the Social Security numbers and other private data of almost four million customers. The tapes were being transported by the carrier UPS to a credit bureau in Texas when they disappeared. This is the latest in a series of major data breaches at big corporations, as NPR's Jim Zarroli reports.

JIM ZARROLI reporting:

Citigroup officials said the tapes were mailed out on May 2nd to the Experian credit bureau office in Texas. Two and a half weeks later, the credit bureau contacted Citigroup to say it hadn't received the tapes and requested a tracking number. UPS says it searched for the tapes but couldn't find them. Citigroup said it had sent the tapes using an enhanced security procedure, and a company official said it was frustrating and disappointing that the tapes were lost anyway. Evan Hendricks is a privacy expert and the author of the book, "Credit Scores & Credit Reports."

Mr. EVAN HENDRICKS (Privacy Expert): What's most worrying is that I've seen the tracking systems of UPS and the other carriers work very well. And they have a good idea where packages are and so for this to be an enhanced security system and still disappear without a trace is pretty troubling. I mean, it could suggest foul play.

ZARROLI: Hendricks says the data contained on the tapes, such as Social Security numbers, is the kind most sought after by identity thieves. But Citigroup officials said yesterday there's no evidence that any of the data has been used, and it has received no reports of unauthorized activity. The tapes contain data for CitiFinancial Branch Network customers and about 50,000 customers with closed accounts at CitiFinancial Retail Services.

This is only the latest in a series of incidents in which major companies have lost confidential data. Time Warner said in May that an outside storage company misplaced computer backup tapes containing data on 600,000 current or former employees. New Jersey officials have arrested several people for an alleged plot to steal data from major banks, including Bank of America and Wachovia.

As for UPS, a spokesman said yesterday that it would do everything possible to ensure that nothing similar happens again.

Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York.

INSKEEP: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jim Zarroli is an NPR correspondent based in New York. He covers economics and business news.