By Bob Sullivan Technology correspondent
msnbc.com
updated 4/19/2005 3:16:45 PM ET 2005-04-19T19:16:45

Ameritrade Inc. has advised 200,000 current and former customers that a computer backup tape containing their personal information has been lost, MSNBC.com has learned. The tape contained information spanning the years 2000-2003, and included both current and past consumers of the online broker, according to spokeswoman Donna Kush.

Notices were mailed to the affected consumers last week, according to the company.

"We believe that information about your closed account resided on the missing tape," read one typical message, sent to a former Ameritrade customer. "The information could include your account number, name and/or other personal information, like your Social Security number."

The letter also says that the missing tape was "likely lost or was destroyed."

The online broker has over 3.7 million current customers, Kush said.

A total of four backup tapes  were found to be missing from a box that was damaged during shipping between two facilities, the company said. Three of the four tapes have been recovered at the shipper's facility.

"We don't believe any foul play was involved," Kush said.  "And we are confident no customer accounts have been compromised or misused."

Information on the tapes was compressed, so viewing it would require special equipment, Kush said. It was not encrypted, she added.

The incident was first discovered in February, according to Kush. The company wanted to wait until it could verify the impacted consumers before sending notification, she said.

News of the lost tape echoes a similar incident announced in February involving Bank of America , which lost a tape during shipping that included information on 1.2 million customers. Most were federal employees, and the tapes included information on high-profile government workers, including several U.S. Senators.

Several high-profile data theft incidents have splattered news pages since Feb. 14, when ChoicePoint Inc. announced criminals posing as clients downloaded personal information on 145,000 people.

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

Bob Sullivan is author ofYour Evil Twin: Behind the Identity Theft Epidemic

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