updated 12/5/2007 7:39:39 PM ET 2007-12-06T00:39:39

State officials said they have begun notifying 86 welfare recipients that a computer containing their personal information was stolen from an office in Philadelphia three weeks ago.

The Department of Public Welfare began mailing letters Wednesday warning the recipients to take steps to protect themselves from identity theft, agency spokeswoman Anne Bale said.

The theft occurred Nov. 13 when someone apparently broke through a locked trap door in the ceiling, Bale said. Welfare officials in Harrisburg were notified Tuesday, she said.

Bale said she did not know why it took three weeks for the department to find out or take action, and she said officials are looking into the matter.

The computer, which is protected by a password, contained names and Social Security numbers of 14 clients and the names and addresses of 72 other clients, Bale said.

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