By Joris Evers
Staff Writer, CNET News.com
August 25, 2006
Verizon Wireless this week accidentally distributed a file with limited
details on more than 5,000 customers outside the company, potentially
giving identity thieves a toehold.
The Microsoft Excel spreadsheet file was e-mailed on Monday and includes
names, e-mail addresses, cell phone numbers and cell phone models of
5,210 Verizon Wireless customers, going by a copy of the file obtained
by CNET News.com. All of the customers have Motorola Razr phones,
according to the spreadsheet.
The spreadsheet was inadvertently sent to about 1,800 people, all
Verizon Wireless subscribers, according to a follow-up e-mail
apologizing for the gaffe that the mobile carrier sent on Thursday. The
Excel file was attached to an ad for a Bluetooth wireless headset,
instead of the electronic order form that was supposed to be sent.
"Verizon Wireless takes the security, confidentiality and integrity of
your personal information very seriously, and we deeply regret this
error," the company said in the Thursday e-mail. It said that it has
already implemented additional quality control procedures and process
improvements to prevent a re-occurrence.
A Verizon Wireless representative confirmed the incident, but could not
immediately provide specific details when reached Friday afternoon.
The information in the document is limited and does not immediately
expose those listed to fraud, the company said in its apology. Yet it
recommends that people affected review their bills more carefully and
add a password to their account by calling 1-866-861-5096.
While the privacy breach in no way makes identity theft automatic, it
helps put a clever fraudster in the starting blocks, said James Van
Dyke, the principal analyst at Javelin Strategy & Research in
Pleasanton, Calif., which tracks identity fraud.
"To commit ID fraud, you must do several things well. This just makes
the job slightly easier," he said. For example, with this list in hand,
a fraudster could call the listed numbers, pretend to be a Verizon
Wireless representative and ask the subscriber for information to update
One Verizon Wireless customer whose details were included in the file
said he was upset about the flap. "Someone just got incredibly careless
sending out a sales e-mail," said Frank Donley of Fresno, Calif. "With
all the privacy incidents you read about recently, I should feel
relieved that my credit card number, Social Security number or some
other secure info wasn't released."
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