Thousands of Marines may be at risk for identity theft

By Leo Shane III, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Thursday, March 30, 2006

WASHINGTON - A portable drive with personal information on more than 207,750 Marines was lost earlier this month, possibly jeopardizing those troops' credit records and privacy.

In a message sent out to Marines, officials said the information was encoded and so far they've seen no evidence the information is being abused. But, because the data could be used for criminal purposes, they are asking all Marines to be on guard for signs of identity theft.

According to officials from the Manpower Information Technology Branch, the portable drive was part of a Naval Postgraduate School research project. The information was being used in research about the effectiveness of re-enlistment bonuses, but it was lost in a computer lab on campus in Monterey, Calif.

The drive contained the names, Social Security numbers, marital status and enlistment contract details for enlisted Marines on active duty between January 2001 and December 2005.

School officials were notified that the data had been lost March 14. The servicewide message about the missing information was sent out 10 days later.

"Odds are if somebody finds it they're not going to be able to read it, because the information is in an unusual file format," said Lt. Col. Mike Perry, head of the information technology branch. "But we will have a very thorough look at our current policies on releasing that information."

Clay Dubberly, infrastructure chief for the branch, said the personal files are not readily available, and researchers must go through three layers of checks before they can access the databases.

Officials are still reviewing exactly what information was on the drive and who was affected, he said. They do not know how many Marines whose information was compromised may have already separated from the service.

In the message, officials recommended affected Marines visit to learn how to put a fraud alert on their credit files and receive a free credit report.

Last summer, more than 33,000 active-duty Air Force officers had their personal information compromised when someone hacked into an online career management program that saved their birth date, Social Security number and other personal data.

An investigation by postgraduate school officials into the loss is ongoing.

In addition, manpower officials are looking into the incident and considering additional ways of notifying affected Marines about the data loss.