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Ameritrade Client Info Lost in Transit

Brokerage company Ameritrade is warning about 200,000 former and current customers of the loss of a backup tape containing their personal information, officials said Wednesday.

The company discovered the loss in February when it received a damaged package containing a number of backup tapes shipped from its secure facilities in the U.S. Katrina Becker, an Ameritrade spokeswoman, said the shipping company caused the damage to the package.

Ameritrade immediately launched an investigation and learned four tapes were missing, three of which were subsequently recovered at the shipper's facility. The fourth, containing personal information on customers who used the company's service between 2000 and 2003, hasn't been recovered, she said.

"Those tapes were all found within the shipper's facility, which was also secure, so it is highly likely that the remaining tape was lost or destroyed within that facility, but we are still monitoring it," she said. "We do not believe foul play was involved."

Company officials started contacting customers last week, Becker said. She would not name the shipping company responsible for the lost tapes, saying only that it is a global, reputable shipping company with its own secure facilities.

Becker said that while the clients' personal information was stored on the backup tapes, damaging information like Social Security numbers isn't included in all customer records, and it's highly unlikely credit-card numbers were similarly stored on the tapes.

Ameritrade's situation mirrors the data loss at the Bank of America in February, where the financial institution announced it had lost a data tape, which included the personal information of up to 1.2 million federal employees.

Data theft has become a topic of national concern in recent months. Publisher Reed Elsevier reported the information theft of up to 310,000 individuals and credit-check company ChoicePoint also announced the theft of individual information earlier this year.

The incidences prompted a Congressional hearing to adopt legislation that forces data brokers to notify consumers if personal information was compromised. Currently, only the state of California has such a law in place.