Three Cheers for ABN

It's the Christmas shipping season, folks, and you know what that means: 10 times the usual chance for package shippers to drop the ball. True to form, one of them managed to do it again, back in late September. But it wasn't Christmas gifts the company lost -- it was personal information.

Before we get to the specifics of DHL's fumble of 2 million ABN AMRO (NYSE: ABN  ) clients' personally identifiable information, let's list the rest of the butterfingers brigade and the size of their respective bumbles:

  • In June, we learned that CitiFinancial, the consumer finance division of banking titan Citigroup (NYSE: C  ) , lost data tapes containing account information on 3.9 million U.S. customers, en route from one data warehouse to another via UPS (NYSE: UPS  ) .

  • Retail Ventures, BJ's, and Polo Ralph Lauren had their databases of customer credit card information ransacked. Total loss: more than 1.6 million records.

  • Ameritrade (Nasdaq: AMTD  ) and Time Warner (NYSE: TWX  ) also suffered losses of personally identifiable data on their customers and employees, respectively, through contractors misplacing data tapes. Total loss: 600,000 records, give or take.

  • Information brokers ChoicePoint and Reed Elsevier fell victim to scams perpetrated by identity thieves who gained access to the companies' records on U.S. consumers. Total loss: upwards of 450,000 records.

  • Employees at Wachovia (NYSE: WB  ) and Bank of America (NYSE: BAC  ) have been stealing customer data from their employers and selling it to debt-collection firms. Total loss: more than 100,000 records.

I think that brings us more or less up to date. So now for the good news: ABN AMRO is run by a bunch of standup folks, and the gents at DHL aren't far behind. True, I could criticize ABN for failing to, say, task a VP to personally cart its data tapes from warehouse to warehouse, and for instead shipping this valuable information like so many pounds of unwanted fruitcake. I could also place DHL in the same butterfingers basket at UPS. But in honor of the holiday season, I'll say instead what these companies did right.

DHL, for its part, upon learning on Nov. 18 that a data tape had gone missing, left no stone unturned trying to find it -- and ultimately did find it after a monthlong search. ABN gets credit for helping in the search and for (relatively) quickly informing its at-risk customers of the loss. But ABN gets extra credit for what it did after DHL found the tape.

Although the package containing the data tape was discovered apparently unopened, ABN volunteered to pay for one full year of credit monitoring for each of its 2 million clients who might conceivably have had their data compromised. That beats out Citigroup's June offer by 275 days, and it matches the offers from Ameritrade, ChoicePoint, and Reed.

Finally, ABN has determined that it will not let this situation ever happen again. For here on out, the company announced last week that it will discontinue outsourced shipping of sensitive personal data on tapes and switch to using only encrypted electronic means to transfer such data. Welcome to the 21st century, ABN. I just wish you had more company.

Read more about who's stealing -- and who's misplacing -- your identity in:

Bank of America is aMotley Fool Income Investorrecommendation. Time Warner is aMotley Fool Stock Advisorpick.

Fools, now is the time to open your hearts and wallets to worthy causes! Please support our five Foolish charities at www.foolanthropy.com.

Fool contributor Rich Smith owns no shares in any company mentioned in this article.


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