I Love Integrity

Let's face it -- corporations aren't known for their integrity. For backdating stock options, yes. $210 million golden parachutes, sure. Sweet deals for insider trading -- why not? Taking advantage of the little guy-- have at it!

So on this Valentine's Day, you may well wonder what in heaven's name I am thinking by coming to praise a bunch of corporations that, through various combinations of absent-mindedness, guileless complacency, and sheer butterfingeredness, have put millions and millions of American consumers at risk of identity theft -- but I've got my reasons. The companies to which I want to express my love today, you see, aren't your run-of-the-mill representatives of rapacious capitalism. They're the exceptions to the rule.

In a series of articles -- ranging from "Banker Dons a Black Hat" to "No Rest for the Wicked" to "BJ's vs. the FTC" to "Oops, They Did It Again" -- I've described the rash of identity thefts that have plagued American businesses, and by extension, American consumers, over the last two years. I've argued that the whole thing adds up to a conspiracy by rings of international identity thieves. And I've chastised firms such as Bank of America (NYSE: BAC  ) and TJX (NYSE: TJX  ) for putting their customers at risk.

Today, I want to take the opposite tack and share a little love for the companies that deserve it -- the few upstanding corporate citizens that, faced with this new threat, are setting new standards in the burgeoning field of "Fessing Up and Taking Your Medicine Already." To wit:

  • ChoicePoint (NYSE: CPS  ) , you were one of the very first companies to suffer from this wave of scandal. And you set the standard for customer care by offering to pay for a full year's worth of credit monitoring for each potential victim.
  • Citigroup (NYSE: C  ) , you came late to the scandal, but did yourself proud by being one of the least late in informing customers when you misplaced tapes containing data on 3.9 million consumers. Within two weeks of the event, you were already spilling the beans -- on yourself.
  • AT&T (NYSE: T  ) , you managed to beat out even Citigroup's record, spreading the word of your own data breach within 48 hours.
  • ABN AMRO (NYSE: ABN  ) , after losing your own batch of data tapes, you were the first bank to actually change the way you do business, mitigating the risk by halting courier shipments of tapes and switching to encrypted data transfers over the Internet.

Would it have been better if none of you had ever put your customers at risk in the first place? No doubt. But on this Valentine's Day, I just don't have the heart to play woulda-shoulda-coulda. Today, I just want to say "thanks" for doing a better job than so many others have done.

What's sending Fools' hearts aflutter? Go back to our intro page to see what else we have a crush on.

Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of any company named above. Bank of America is an Income Investor selection.

Each and every article in this series represents the opinion of the respective Foolish author, and should in no way be taken as the opinion of either The Motley Fool, Inc. or the company in question or as representative of anyone, or anything other than that specific Fool's thoughts. So before buying, do your homework, and review The Motley Fool's much beloved disclosure policy.


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