Stolen Vermont State Colleges computer leaves thousands vulnerable to identity theft

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(Host) Officials with the Vermont State Colleges say a laptop computer stolen from an employee contains information about thousands of students and staff members. The information includes social security numbers, which are often used in identity theft. Some former students say they’re unhappy with the college system’s response to the theft.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) The laptop was taken from a car belonging to a Vermont State Colleges information technology staff member. It contained six years worth of personal information about students and staff, including their social security numbers.

College officials say it’s unclear how many people are potentially affected but it’s possible the computer contained data on more than 20,000 students, former students and employees of the four state colleges and the Community College of Vermont.

Linda Hilton is the Chief Information Officer with the Vermont State Colleges. Hilton says officials were notified of the theft on February 28, three days after it occurred. She says college staff took immediate steps to block access from the laptop to the college system’s computer network and so far there are no signs of problems.

(Hilton) “We have no indication that that data has been accessed or misused in any way.”

(Zind) Hilton says messages have been sent to staff and students’ on-campus email addresses advising them of the theft and urging them to check credit card statements and bank accounts for unusual activity.

The emails went out this week, three weeks after the theft was reported. Hilton says it took that much time for officials to determine what files were on the stolen computer.

Eric Thomsen is unhappy about the delay. Thomsen is a 2005 graduate of Lyndon State College. He learned about the theft from a friend.

(Thomsen) “I have a lot of roommates that actually attend the school and I was the one to inform them, which is kind of strange.”

(Zind) Thomson says he rarely checks his old college email address. He wants officials to send letters to former students whose social security numbers may have been on the stolen computer, instead of sending an email to an old address.

(Thomsen) “I believe they should have sent out a mailing. This is important enough. It would not be that hard. You’d think an issue this pressing, where you’re talking about fraudulent activities which can really mess up someone’s life, should have been addressed much more seriously.”

(Hilton) “Well I can assure you we’re taking it really seriously.”

(Zind) Linda Hilton of the state colleges says officials are considering sending out letters

(Hilton) “We’re going to do our best to notify people. Just because we haven’t made a decision about sending out a letter to everyone doesn’t mean we’re not going to do it.”

(Zind) Hilton says the Vermont State College system’s security policies are similar to those of other schools. She says the colleges are conducting a review of how data is used and exchanged with an eye toward improved security.

This incident is the second involving the personal information of Vermont college students. Last fall it was discovered that students’ social security numbers and other information had been mistakenly posted on the Vermont Technical College Web site. Officials say that information might have been accessible for 18 months before the problem was discovered.

Information about the incidents is posted on the Vermont State Colleges Web site.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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