August 25, 2006 5:11 PM PDT

Verizon gaffe lets customer details slip

Verizon Wireless this week accidentally distributed a file with limited details on more than 5,000 customers outside the company, potentially giving identity thieves a toehold.

The Microsoft Excel spreadsheet file was e-mailed on Monday and includes names, e-mail addresses, cell phone numbers and cell phone models of 5,210 Verizon Wireless customers, going by a copy of the file obtained by CNET All of the customers have Motorola Razr phones, according to the spreadsheet.

The spreadsheet was inadvertently sent to about 1,800 people, all Verizon Wireless subscribers, according to a follow-up e-mail apologizing for the gaffe that the mobile carrier sent on Thursday. The Excel file was attached to an ad for a Bluetooth wireless headset, instead of the electronic order form that was supposed to be sent.

"Verizon Wireless takes the security, confidentiality and integrity of your personal information very seriously, and we deeply regret this error," the company said in the Thursday e-mail. It said that it has already implemented additional quality control procedures and process improvements to prevent a re-occurrence.

A Verizon Wireless representative confirmed the incident, but could not immediately provide specific details when reached Friday afternoon.

The information in the document is limited and does not immediately expose those listed to fraud, the company said in its apology. Yet it recommends that people affected review their bills more carefully and add a password to their account by calling 1-866-861-5096.

While the privacy breach in no way makes identity theft automatic, it helps put a clever fraudster in the starting blocks, said James Van Dyke, the principal analyst at Javelin Strategy & Research in Pleasanton, Calif., which tracks identity fraud.

"To commit ID fraud, you must do several things well. This just makes the job slightly easier," he said. For example, with this list in hand, a fraudster could call the listed numbers, pretend to be a Verizon Wireless representative and ask the subscriber for information to update the account.

One Verizon Wireless customer whose details were included in the file said he was upset about the flap. "Someone just got incredibly careless sending out a sales e-mail," said Frank Donley of Fresno, Calif. "With all the privacy incidents you read about recently, I should feel relieved that my credit card number, Social Security number or some other secure info wasn't released."

See more CNET content tagged:
Verizon Wireless, identity fraud, quality control, spreadsheet, Verizon Communications


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Could'a, should'a...
Woops, they did it again..! This would be shocking news, if we didn't hear stories like this all the time... "Private data distributed to unauthorized parties! Risk of identity theft rampant!"

Lesson learned here: private businesses and government organizations need to invest in email anti-theft software that secures outbound email... which often contains customer data, employee information and other crucial corporate assets.
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Posted by ml_ess (71 comments )
Reply Link Flag
How DOES one just email 5,210 people?
I'm a Verizon Wireless customer. And I'm wondering how DOES one only just email 5,210 people? I see no apology on VZW's web site acknowledging this mess, either. Perhaps time to get blankety-blank outta Dodge, Marshall Dillon.
Posted by troob (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What precautions are being taken?
The article fails to explain what "additional quality control procedures and process improvements" are being implemented to "prevent a re-occurrence". If this means that the people who accidently attached the database to the email or going to a get a slap on the wrist and a warning that if it ever happens again, it's termination of employment, I would not be satisfied as a Verizon customer. You'd think that after the AOL incident, a red flag would go up to all companies who possess sensitive customer information. Hopefully, some kind of data encryption is being used so that if such documents accidently get attached again, the receivers will not be able to view it. This article provides some pointers for doing just that:

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Posted by mveronica (40 comments )
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Bottom line
Private information should not be in the hands of non-exec employees in the first place. These employees were emailing ads to customers for goodness sake!
It is time for the people to NOT give out social security numbers as a form of identification and it would be much harder to steal a persons ID. It is time for states that use SS# as ID on drivers license to change the policy and use only driver license ID as a form to identify you as a payee.
Posted by pjdw (33 comments )
Link Flag
The problem here is still security. If a fraudster doesn't have a Social Security Number, but has gotten a hold of other information that a company like Verizon might have (name, address, bank account information), it could still be enough to inflict damage.
It's like saying "businesses should just not use laptops"... truth is, they'll continue using laptops and if not, carelessness will lead to security breaches anyway.
We can only hope that Verizon has learned its lesson (<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>) and will implement increased security measures in the email arena.
Posted by ml_ess (71 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I experienced a worse privacy violation just this week. I received an email from Verizon informing me that my application for a discount program was accepted. Attached to the email was a file that contained my personal data (images of my drivers license and check stub) along with the private data of 25 other people who applied to the discount program. So I'm sure at least 25 people receieved the same file. I contacted the Verizon store that was responsible but I haven't heard from them yet. Next step is contacting the Attorney General.
Posted by kor17 (1 comment )
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