WSU sends warning to 1M people after hard drive with Social Security numbers, other info stolen

PULLMAN, Wash. — Washington State University has confirmed that a hard drive has been stolen that could place up to 1 million students and others at risk of identity theft.

It is sending out warning letters to those affected.

The university, on its website, said it learned on April 21 that the hard drive had been stolen from a locked safe at its Social & Economic Sciences Research Center (SESRC).

"The drive contained documents that included personal information such as names, Social Security numbers and, in some cases, personal health information. Entities that provided data to the SESRC include school districts, community colleges, and other customers," WSU said.

"We know that not all of the information on the drive was encrypted," the WSU letter said.

"We have no indication that the information on the hard drive has been accessed or misused in any way. However, as a precaution, we are notifying you of this incident and offering you a complimentary one-year membership to Experian's ProtectMayID Alert," the letter said.

"We take this incident very seriously. We are notifying impacted individuals so they can take steps to protect themselves and offering free credit monitoring and identity theft protection services to those individuals whose personal information may have been accessed. We are also notifying the entities that provided SESRC with data that included personal information."

WSU said it began mailing letters to affected individuals on June 9 and has set up a dedicated call center to answer any questions.

"If you believe you may be affected and have not received a letter by June 30, or have additional questions, please call our dedicated assistance line at 866-523-9195, Monday through Friday, between 8:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time (closed on U.S. observed-holidays)," WSU said.

The consumer group WashPIRG said, "Following revelations that WSU has admitted to the theft of a partly-unencrypted laptop placing up to one million students and others at risk of new account identity theft due to the inclusion of Social Security Numbers and other personal information, we urge the WSU victims and all Washington residents to place credit, or security, freezes on all three of your credit reports."

However, there is a cost for doing so. This PIRG report explains the security freeze in detail.