As you may have heard, Citibank messed up. Big time. It accidentally sent out more than 600,000 mailings to customers with their Social Security numbers printed on the outside of the envelopes.
One of WalletPop's editors was one of those 600,000, and she received a letter from Citibank that read in part (entire contents at American Banking News):
"We are writing to inform you that due to a processing error the nine digits in your Social Security number, along with a string of other numbers and letters all resembling a mail routing number, were printed on the lower edge of an envelope containing a year-end tax statement that we mailed to you recently.
We believe there is little or no risk to you. However, we wanted to bring this to your attention, apologize and confirm that changes have been made for all future mailings..."
Chances are, they're right about the low risk. The odds of someone in a mail room giving any bank envelope more than a cursory glance seems remote at best, and with all the machines that sort mail, it seems likely that the first person to even handle the mail was the postal carrier, who has better things to do than study envelopes in the unlikely event that something will be there that he or she can use to fund their retirement. And as long as you were the one who picked up your mail...
So despite our headline, and despite the fact that mail theft does sometimes occur, if you're a Citibank customer and you have that envelope in your home, I wouldn't panic. Not for one second.
And kudos to Citibank for coming clean and sending out letters for everyone -- and for offering to enroll their customers in a six-month complimentary identity theft program.
But, still, what a boneheaded move.
Banks have an image problem as it is, and I can just imagine that some financial companies are going to use Citibank as their poster boy for why you should pay "X" amount of dollars per month for monthly identity theft monitoring, a service that arguably a lot of people don't need. But that argument's going to be harder to make now.
Since some banks do offer identity theft services, I can almost envision those banks even using Citibank in their marketing: "Hey, folks, sign up for our identity theft services because, you never know, we might 'mistakenly' give out your Social Security number to -- well -- everyone."
I'm not sure Citibank's decision to enroll everyone into an identity theft program will entirely smooth things over. As the aforementioned editor (who wants to stay anonymous for the obvious reason of not wanting to share her name so you know what bank she does business with) told me, she and her husband decided not to enroll.
"They ask you so many detailed personal finance questions when you sign up for their free credit check, like 'Did you refinance in 2007?', that we just quit the process," said our editor. "I mean, why would I want to trust them with even more information about me when they can't even keep my Social Security number off an envelope?"
Geoff Williams is a regular contributor to WalletPop. He is also the co-author of the new book "Living Well with Bad Credit."
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