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Stolen laptop exposes data of 100,000

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A thief recently walked into a University of California, Berkeley office and swiped a computer laptop containing personal information about nearly 100,000 alumni, graduate students and past applicants, highlighting a continued lack of security that has increased society's vulnerability to identity theft.

University officials waited until Monday to announce the March 11 crime, hoping that police would be able to catch the thief and reclaim the computer. When that didn't happen, the school publicized the theft to comply with a state law requiring consumers be notified whenever their Social Security numbers or other sensitive information have been breached.

UC Berkeley plans to advise the 98,369 people affected by the laptop theft to check their credit reports, although there has been no indication any of he personal information has been used illegally, university spokeswoman Maria Felde said.

This is the second time in six months that UC Berkeley has been involved in a theft of personal information. Last September, a computer hacker gained access to UC Berkeley research being done for the state Department of Social Services. The files contained personal information of about 600,000 people. That security breach hasn't been linked to any cases of identity theft, Felde said.

Recent breaches have occurred at: ChoicePoint Inc., a consumer data firm duped into distributing personal information about 145,000 people; Lexis-Nexis, a data storehouse where computer hackers obtained access to the personal information of 32,000 people; and Chico State University, where a computer hacking job exposed 59,000 people to potential identity theft.

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