People's Bank Joins the Butterfingers Gang

Another day, another data tape gone missing.

It's already starting to feel like a ho-hum story -- this continuing saga of companies misplacing data, inadvertently opening their files to all comers, losing computers stuffed with personally identifiable information, and on and on ad nauseum. But I suppose that if we don't write about it, the story will just fade into the background, and the custodians of our private information (not that we ever asked them to take the job) will feel free to once again stop telling us when they fumble our files.

But to the point. Earlier this week, Connecticut-based People's Bank (Nasdaq: PBCT  ) joined the long and lengthening list of butterfingers-gang affiliates -- the banks that just can't seem to hold on to our data long enough to safely ship it from Point A to Point B. As usual, the bank will blame the company it tasked with shipping its data from aforesaid Point A to aforesaid Point B -- in this case, UPS (NYSE: UPS  ) . Yet regardless of whom the bank entrusted the task to, People's Bank remains responsible for keeping its clients' information safe.

In its defense, People's Bank has at least done the right thing in informing its customers of the risk of a privacy breach, and in offering the currently highest standard of recompense: one year's subscription to a credit monitoring service, on People's Bank's tab. For the record, this type of service has also been extended by data-fumblers ABN AMRO (NYSE: ABN  ) , Ameritrade (Nasdaq: AMTD  ) , ChoicePoint (NYSE: CPS  ) , and Reed Elsevier (NYSE: ENL  ) . Other companies like Citigroup (NYSE: C  ) , which lost 3.9 million customer records back in June, went the cheapskate route and offered just three months of credit monitoring to clients affected by their breach.

A free year of credit monitoring is a good start to fix this problem, but honestly, the best solution would be to take the further step that ABN AMRO made last year -- committing to cease mailing clients' personal information by non-secure couriers, and to make all future data transfers via encrypted electronic transfer. ABN set a new standard with that promise, and it's high time the other butterfingers affiliates follow suit. According to the San Diego-based Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, which maintains a list of all data breaches announced publicly since this problem really caught fire early last year, these breaches have now affected as many as one in every six Americans -- with 52 million affected people in all.

Enough is enough.

Read more about who's stealing -- and who's misplacing -- your identity in Dayana Yochim's story "It's Hunting Season for Identity Thieves."

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


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