Monday, November 13, 2006

49 Million U.S. Adults Notified Of Data Breaches

By Antone Gonsalves,

An estimated 49 million U.S. adults have been told over the last three years that their personal information has been lost, stolen, or improperly disclosed, a research firm said Friday.

Most of the notifications came from government agencies and financial institutions, according to a national survey conducted by Harris Interactive in October. While many of the respondents didn't believe there was any harmful result of the data breaches, a small but significant number thought they may have seen some damage.

More than one in five adults surveyed said some organization had notified them that their personal information was improperly disclosed. Among those adults, 48% were notified by a government agency, 29% by a financial company, and 12% by a commercial company. Other organizations that had made notifications included educational institutions (6%) and health-care facilities (5%).

Fully 81% of adults notified of trouble perceived nothing harmful happening as a result, Harris said. The remaining 19%, or 9.3 million people, believed they suffered harm. Within that group, 78% said either merchandise was charged in their name, or some kind of fraud was committed that cost them money. The remainder said cash was taken from their bank accounts, a credit card was taken out in their name, or someone posed as them to receive a government benefit or service.

Much of the damage suffered by victims was caused by friends and family, stolen wallets or purses, pilfered information from mailboxes or trash containers, and insider theft of personal data by employees of organizations, said Alan Westin, the Columbia University professor who helped design the survey.

Nevertheless, enough people were harmed through mistakes by businesses, government, and other types of organizations to warrant stronger data security measures to retain the trust of customers, members, and citizens, Westin said in a statement.

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