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The Marketplace Report: Bank ID Theft

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Back now with DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

More Americans than originally thought might have had their private bank account information compromised by banks. Perhaps as many as half a million more. This time investigators say computer hackers are not to blame, but bank insiders who leaked secret account numbers and other information. Bob Moon joins us from the "Marketplace" news bureau in New York.

Bob, which banks are involved in this latest investigation? And who should be watching, in case their accounts have been compromised?

BOB MOON reporting:

Hi, Alex.

The big picture is that we can all be reduced to a number these days, or a few key numbers, anyway. But this latest case involves customers of Bank of America, Wachovia, New Jersey-based Commerce Bank and PNC Financial Services. Investigators in New Jersey who are looking into this theft ring now estimate that 500,000 or more accounts at about 10 banks may have been compromised in this scheme. They say customers were in New Jersey, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and North and South Carolina.

Now this is what they say happened. They allege that bank employees--or we should say now former bank employees sold account numbers and balances to a man who then sold the information to collection agencies. The good news here is that investigators say there's no indication that any of the information has been used to steal any money or open fraudulent accounts. But the banks are in the process of notifying customers. Bank of America, for example, says it's already informed some 60,000 of its customers and is offering those customers free credit monitoring.

CHADWICK: So this is the second, or perhaps third, instance of this that I've heard of in the last six months or so. Is this because it's happening more often or the cops are just getting onto it?

MOON: Hard to say whether that's what's happening here, because up to now law enforcement agencies have tended to play down these cases to keep from tipping their hand as they try to track down those involved. There's been pressure lately for businesses involved to notify those whose information has been compromised, so those people can take their own precautions. That said, law enforcement agencies do seem to be focusing on the problem though. Just today there's word that FBI agents have searched the property of at least 10 suspects as part of their investigation into a security breach at data broker LexisNexis. That involved hackers using legitimate customer accounts to gain access to the profiles of about 32,000 people including Social Security and driver's license numbers.

CHADWICK: Is this something we're going to see Congress passing laws on?

MOON: Well, there have been hearings on Capitol Hill recently, at which lawmakers turned up the pressure on the companies that hold this sensitive information to do more to make sure it's kept secure. But we're told that no new legislation is expected anytime soon--that, from members of Congress. And by the way, that hasn't stopped companies from losing control of sensitive information. There were cases just today of 16,000 numbers being stolen in Colorado Springs.

Today in the "Marketplace" newsroom, we're turning our attention to the Mexican border.

CHADWICK: Thank you, Bob. Bob Moon of public radio's daily business show, "Marketplace," produced by American Public Media. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Alex Chadwick
For more than 30 years, Alex Chadwick has been bringing the world to NPR listeners as an NPR News producer, program host and currently senior correspondent. He's reported from every continent except Antarctica.
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