• United States

Ameriprise notifying 226,000 customers, advisors of data theft

Jan 26, 20063 mins

Financial services company Ameriprise Financial Inc. is notifying some 158,000 customers and 68,000 financial advisors this week that a laptop containing personal information about them — including names, account numbers or Social Security numbers — was stolen late last month.

In an announcement Wednesday, Minneapolis-based Ameriprise, which was spun off last year by the American Express Co., said the data breach occurred when the laptop was stolen from an employee’s locked car in a public parking lot. The name of the city where the theft occurred is not being released because the case remains under investigation by police, Connolly said.

“Basically, it was someone smashing windows and stealing items from a car,” he said. “They took additional items, including a briefcase, which contained the laptop.” The car was not parked in an Ameriprise company parking lot, so the thief did not target the vehicle looking for data from the company, he said.

“It was a random criminal act,” Connolly said.

The laptop used password protection for Novell Inc. networking applications and Microsoft Corp.’s Windows software but the data files containing the customer and advisor data were not encrypted, as required by company policies, Connolly said.

One of the data files only included the names and internal Ameriprise account numbers of 158,000 customers, while the second file included the names and Social Security numbers of 58,000 Ameriprise advisors. No other personal information was contained in the files, the company said. Ameriprise has approximately 2.4 million customers.

“This particular employee had legitimate business reasons to have these files,” Connolly said, but the employee failed to use required processes to encrypt the data. “What shouldn’t have happened is the information shouldn’t have been removed from the company’s offices without the proper data security.”

The employee, who broke written company policies, was fired due to the incident, Connolly said.

Notification letters about the data theft went out to affected customers and advisors via U.S. Mail beginning last Saturday, he said. It took company workers several weeks to recreate the files that are missing, then it took additional time to cross-reference the names, account numbers or Social Security numbers to find the addresses and other information needed to send out the letters, he said.

There are no indications that any of the data has been used improperly, Connolly said.

“A name and that internal Ameriprise account number are not enough information to do anything” with a customer’s account, he said. “It’s not even close.”

At least three other pieces of personal information are needed for Ameriprise customers to gain access to their accounts, he said.

Brian Heath, president of the U.S. Advisor Group for Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc., apologized for the incident in a statement.

“We take our responsibility to safeguard personal information very seriously,” he said. “Although the risk of misuse of the data contained in these files is very low, we apologize for any inconvenience or concern this situation may cause. We have made every effort to notify affected individuals and to make them aware of the situation and the steps we are taking.”


Todd R. Weiss is an award-winning technology journalist and freelance writer who worked as a staff reporter for Computerworld from 2000 to 2008. Weiss covers enterprise IT from cloud computing to Hadoop to virtualization, enterprise applications such as ERP, CRM and BI, Linux and open source, and more. He spends his spare time working on a book about an unheralded member of the 1957 Milwaukee Braves and watching classic Humphrey Bogart movies.

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