Millions of U.S. military veterans have been put at risk for identity theft after their electronic records were stolen from the residence of a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs employee who wasn't authorized to take the data home.
The department confirmed Monday that the records contained information on 26.5 million people, including their names, Social Security numbers and dates of birth for the military veterans and some spouses. The electronic data is related to everyone discharged from the military since 1975. At this point, there's no evidence that the thieves have used the data to commit identity fraud.
"We are going to send out an individual notification letter to every veteran to the extent possible," warning them of the risk of identity theft, Veterans Affairs Secretary R. James Nicholson told the Reuters news service.
Nicholson said the burglary occurred this month, but wouldn't identify the employee, the location of the burglary or how long the employee had the data at his home. The FBI said the theft occurred in the Maryland area and is being looked at by the FBI's Baltimore field office, Reuters reported.
Officials said equipment containing the data was stolen, but Nicholson wouldn't say if a government laptop computer was involved.
"The employee has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation, and we have a full-scale investigation going on in this," Nicholson said in a conference call with reporters. "We have a system of policies and controls that are in place and operating, and this person violated those."
He said investigators believe this was a random burglary and that the primary motivation of the crime was not to steal this data. There had apparently been a series of burglaries in the community where the employee lived.
"It's highly probable that they do not know what they have," Nicholson said of the burglars.