Marriott backup tapes missing

Customer, employee information at risk


ORLANDO, Fla. -- Computer tapes - containing information on 206,000 employees, time-share owners and customers that could be misused by credit thieves - are missing from Marriott Vacation Club International's Orlando headquarters, the company said yesterday,

"We regret this situation has occurred and realize this may cause concern for our associates and customers," Marriott Vacation Club President Stephen P. Weisz said in a written statement.

Ed Kinney, a spokesman for the timeshare giant, said the tapes contain people's addresses, Social Security numbers "and other sensitive information."

Employees and customers are being alerted by mail, the company said, and will be offered an opportunity to enroll in a credit-monitoring service at no cost.

Kinney, vice president of corporate affairs and brand awareness, said the company has no idea how the backup tapes disappeared, but it has alerted authorities and is conducting an internal investigation.

"It's not really readily usable information. You do need certain hardware to be able to read it," Kinney said of the tapes.

Marriott, a division of Bethesda, Md.-based Marriott International Inc., has established a toll-free number for employees and customers seeking additional information: 800-952-8145.

Time-share owners at one of the company's Florida resorts, the Marriott Grande Vista near SeaWorld, said yesterday that they were not aware of the security breach.

The vacationers, none of whom was willing to be quoted by name, said they weren't surprised to learn of the missing tapes, given recent reports of similar incidents at other large corporations.

"You always have to have concerns" when dealing with people's personal financial information, said a visitor from Chicago.

A number of large banks and credit card companies - MasterCard, the consumer-finance division of Citigroup Inc. and Bank of America Corp. - have had problems this year with missing data tapes or computer hackers stealing customer information.

Privacy experts recommend that people be vigilant in checking credit card bills and regularly reviewing their credit records for any signs of misuse - whether they know of a specific security breach or not.

Marriott Vacation Club is the nation's time-share sales leader, with more than $1.46 billion a year in sales and 52 resorts nationwide.

Jerry W. Jackson writes for the Orlando Sentinel.

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