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Mortgage Company PCs Stolen

Wells, 1st Horizon report breaches

May 3, 2006

By PATRICK CROWLEY


photo of Patrick Crowley
Pending mortgage loan applicants and existing borrowers of two major mortgage institutions were recently informed that personal computers containing their personal information were stolen.

First, a Wells Fargo Home Mortgage laptop computer containing confidential personal information about mortgage customers is missing and may have been stolen, according to a statement from the Des Moines, Iowa-based lender.

Wells, which has more than 23 million customers and is the nation's second largest mortgage lender with nearly $400 billion in residential loans made last year, said the computer was being transported by a "global express shipping company" earlier this month when the company discovered it was missing.

Wells, which is based in San Francisco, admitted the computer was loaded with sensitive information, but the company believes it was stolen for the hardware rather than the information.

"The equipment contained confidential information about some of Wells Fargo's mortgage customers and prospective customers, including names, addresses, Social Security numbers and mortgage loan accounts," the company said in a statement.

Wells said the computer did not have "depository or any other account numbers" that customers have with Wells for any other financial institutions.

The immediate concern is identity theft. Wells is notifying customers by letter about the missing computer and suggesting ways they can reduce any risk to their personal information.

"There is absolutely no indication the customer information has been misused or accessed but we want to make sure our customers are fully aware of the situation, and that we can help them take precautionary steps to safeguard them against any potential risk," Cara Heiden, division president of Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, said in the statement.

"We are offering a one-year free credit monitoring subscription and encouraging customers to review all of their financial accounts regularly and report any suspicious activity immediately to the appropriate financial institution," Heiden said.

At the direction of law enforcement, Wells said it delayed informing customers and the media about the missing computer.

"Law enforcement directed Wells Fargo to delay notifying affected customers because it was concerned that such notification would jeopardize its investigation," the company said. "Through the investigation law enforcement believes this may have been a theft for the hardware, not for information."

The company said it has no indication the information has been accessed or misused and that tapping into the database will be difficult.

"The computer has two layers of security, making it difficult to access the information," Wells said.

Wells is the latest mortgage computer to be stung by a stolen computer.

In late January, a computer with information about First Horizon mortgage customers was stolen from an employee's home in Lake Oswego, Oregon, police there have confirmed.

First Horizon also contacted customers and told police they do not believe any of the information has been accessed or misused. The company is also providing credit monitoring to its customers.

"We are not aware of any fraud as a result of that (computer theft) and that makes us very, very happy," First Horizon spokeswoman Kim Cherry told MortgageDaily.com.


Patrick Crowley is a feature journalist and blogger for MortgageDaily.com. He is also a reporter, blogger and columnist for The Cincinnati Enquirer.
e-mail Patrick at: [email protected]


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