June 22, 2013

Mass. man who ordered tie gets workers' personal info instead

The package includes Social Security numbers, tax information, handwritten resignation letters and salary information for about 20 former Gap employees.

The Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — With a little more than two weeks to go before their wedding, Emily Dreyfuss' fiance ordered a tie and pocket square from Gap chain Banana Republic's website to go with his Navy blue suit.

What the couple got in the mail instead on Thursday would make an identity thief giddy: the confidential files of about 20 former employees, including Social Security numbers and W4 tax forms.

"We totally laughed," Dreyfuss, 29, said on Friday from her home in Cambridge, Mass.

She had misgivings about the package as soon as it arrived. It was really heavy and didn't say Banana Republic, but Gap Inc.

She and her fiancee have been buying each other presents, and she thought it may have been a really heavy piece of clothing with catalogs, said Dreyfuss, the daughter of actor Richard Dreyfuss.

When he opened the package, inside were three folders sealed with tape and labeled "HR Administration." They contained tax and Social Security information as well as handwritten resignation letters, doctors' notes and salary information — seemingly the employees' entire record at the company. The employees were sales support associates and at least one made $9 an hour, Dreyfuss said.

The resignation letters were mostly from March and addressed formally to "Ms." and then the person's first name. They were polite and positive, expressing thanks for the chance to work for the company and learning so much. Some ended by saying, "God Bless."

Dreyfuss, who runs the home page and also writes for technology website, CNET, said she didn't look through everything.

"I got a queasy feeling and felt like I should stop looking at this," she said.

San Francisco-based Gap Inc. blamed the mix-up on a human mistake.

"We're taking immediate action to evaluate and strengthen our processes to prevent mis-mailings in the future and apologize for the error," spokeswoman Edie Kissko said in a statement.

Dreyfuss said a Banana Republic representative has since responded to a tweet about the mix-up and apologized for what he called a "horrible mistake."

He said clothing and confidential information is sent out in the same gray bag, and the employee information appears to have been mislabeled. The representative said the store would look into what went wrong and informing the former employees, Dreyfuss said. They will send her a self-addressed, stamped envelope to return the information in.

Ironically, Dreyfuss said her fiancee recently received someone else's welcome packet from his new employer, with that employee's salary and Social Security number.

Dreyfuss said the episode with Banana Republic raises concerns about how well the company is safeguarding customer information if even its employees' information can be compromised.

"People should know about this because it's crazy and scary," she said.

In her statement, Kissko said the company takes the confidentiality of personal information very seriously.

Dreyfuss was offered a free tie and pocket handkerchief — a $61 value, but said she declined.

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