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Volume 70, Issue 71, Friday, December 3, 2004

Opinion

Wells Fargo outsources printing jobs

Sensitive information passed to other companies puts customer at risk

by Lucas Mireles

When a person hears about a bank being robbed, nostalgic images of old western gunslingers grasping bags of money while frantically riding from angry gun blazing townsfolk immediately comes to mind. Back then, robbing banks for the cold hard loot was a high-risk yet very profitable gamble. Today, banks are still being robbed, not of the all-purpose cliché cash, but of highly sensitive information.

Last Halloween, I received a very normal looking letter from my not-so small-scale bank Wells Fargo. Thinking it was a monthly account summary, I put off inspecting my choice of purchases with all of my hard-earned dollars from writing columns for The Daily Cougar. When I finally opened this innocuous Pandora's Box, I came across a letter with this very informative first sentence:

"We are writing to inform you that a computer containing confidential information about you and your student loan was stolen."

Wow. Talk about hidden fees.

The letter went on to politely explain that four computers were stolen that contained my name, social security number, student loan information and other stuff I don't exactly care to paint on a huge obnoxious billboard right next to I-45.

How can people walk into Wells Fargo headquarters, a modern juggernaut of today's banking elite, and then waltz out the front doors with a few <I>computers<P>? I don't know about anyone else, but when I think of bank security, I'm thinking some <I>Mission: Impossible<P> situation with 30-foot ceilings, pressure sensitive floors, an invisible matrix of lasers with gattling guns, an endless complex of security cameras and, of course, armed security guards with martial arts experience.

This is where I want to believe Wells Fargo has my information. Of course, after immediately imagining this elaborate situation, images of professional bank robbers in ski masks with tactical military training, bearing AK-47's in one hand and holding pink iMacs in the other came to mind.

So, I called a special number and was politely informed that nobody just walked into Wells Fargo headquarters and nonchalantly picked up some computers and walked out the front doors. Those thieves did all that somewhere else.

Hmm ... somewhere else? So, this suggests that the very sensitive, credit-endangering, "crucial for my own personal well-being" information is not being well guarded at Wells "Fort Knox" Fargo headquarters?

I was informed that this devious crime occurred at a separate printing facility and not in a Wells Fargo bank of any sort. It seemed to me that to save some money, Wells Fargo outsources their printing duties to a separate company. This unnamed place receives sensitive information from my bank, enters it onto their computers and proceeds to print out my monthly account summaries for my viewing pleasure. This drill doesn't just happen to me, it happens to everyone who has taken out a student loan with Wells Fargo.

Outsourcing is not an uncommon tactic used in corporate America, but when the company from which a bank outsources has an obviously lesser form of security than they do, then this is a real clash of business ethics with human morality.

It's as if Wells Fargo, after business hours, gave the password to their entire database to two kids to guard at a snow cone stand. Call me crazy, but in this world where identity theft runs rampant, that's not exactly the safest place to trust this slightly more than vital information. This raises another question of whether other banks follow this same example.

I am sure heads rolled because of this internal debacle, but I have not been given any indication of whether Wells Fargo has sought the massive security overhaul of their outsourced company that is so sorely needed. Until they do, countless numbers of disillusioned Wells Fargo clients will not be sleeping soundly anytime soon.

In the meantime, I have to contact a few national credit reporting agencies and hope that, come this joyous holiday season, I or someone else with my name doesn't end up purchasing a few 64-inch high-definition plasma screen televisions. That, I'm sorry to say, my Daily Cougar salary will not be able to cover.

Mireles, a columnist for The Daily Cougar, 
can be reached at anitaleek@yahoo.com

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