April 20, 2005
It's one thing when cyber-thieves break into computer systems and steal sensitive personal information. It's quite another when the information simply gets lost in the mail. But that's what's happened with 200,000 present and former clients of the online brokerage service, Ameritrade.

Ameritrade has sent emails to the former and current clients in question, explaining that a backup tape containing their names, Social Security numbers, account numbers and other sensitive personal data, is unaccounted for.

The company said four backup tapes, full of information from 2000-2003, were lost during shipping earlier this year. Three of the tapes have turned up. The fourth remains missing.

The mishap occurred in February, but an Ameritrade spokeswoman said the company waited to announce it until they had determined exactly which current and former clients were on the missing tape. Those clients have received emails, notifying them of the problem.

The announcement comes against the backdrop of recent security breaches at data collection firms like ChoicePoint and LexisNexis, but Ameritrade said this situation is very different. No security system was breached, and the information on the missing tape is compressed, requiring special equipment to read it. Ameritrade said it is confident no customer accounts have been compromised or misused.

"We sincerely apologize for this unusual event, and any discomfort it may cause you," Ameritrade said in the e-mail to affected clients. "That's why we wanted to notify you as quickly as possible, and let you know what actions we are taking."