Break-in raises potential of identity theft

The potential for identity theft has prompted B.C.’s Ministry of Human Resources to alert more than 500 individuals about a break-in at its Coquitlam regional office last month.

The Coquitlam office, located outside of downtown Vancouver, provides welfare and other income assistance services. On Feb. 5, three laptop computers, a cellular phone, and most notably the main regional computer server containing sensitive personal client and staff information, was taken.

Ministry spokesperson Richard Chambers on Wednesday said the information affected includes social insurance numbers, addresses, birth dates and other personal data. He added the data had previously been backed up and the break-in will not affect any governmental services.

It took over four weeks for a government IT team to reconstruct files, sifting through approximately 57,000 bits of data which was “all over the place” to determine what was missing, Chambers said.

Chambers said the 568 individuals affected were notified in writing Mar. 7 so that they might protect themselves against possible improper use of their personal information, adding that staff is working with local police to retrieve the stolen property.

In the meantime, a special phone number has been set up to assist those affected and the B.C. information and privacy commissioner and ministry legal counsel have been informed and are providing assistance, Chambers said. “This is something that was obviously not planned on our part, but it certainly gives us a chance to strengthen what we do normally.”

Security measures the ministry is immediately taking include changing locks and computer passwords along with hiring an outside auditor to review physical and data security, Chambers said. While nothing has been reported as yet, Chambers noted the possibility of identity theft is real and the ministry is asking the individuals to keep a vigilant watch for any “usual activity” in bank or credit accounts.

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