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Stolen UVic electronics returned damaged, dubious apology note attached

A typed letter that was found in a bag containing what Saanich police believe to be the items stolen from the University of Victoria. One item was missing from the bag, however: the flash drive containing the confidential personal information for 11,841 employees. Police say they are even more concerned now, after the receipt of this letter, about the potential for identity theft. - Kyle Slavin/News staff
A typed letter that was found in a bag containing what Saanich police believe to be the items stolen from the University of Victoria. One item was missing from the bag, however: the flash drive containing the confidential personal information for 11,841 employees. Police say they are even more concerned now, after the receipt of this letter, about the potential for identity theft.
— image credit: Kyle Slavin/News staff

It might be a break in a big case or it could be just a clever ploy to lull potential victims of identity theft into a false sense of security.

Electronics believed to be stolen from a break-and-enter at the University of Victoria earlier this month have been located. However, what concerns police is an unencrypted flash drive that stored confidential information for nearly 12,000 employees was not returned.

Canada Post workers found a garbage bag containing the electronics deposited in a mailbox in the 1300-block of Bear Mountain Pkwy. on Jan. 18. The thief also included a written apology, with a reassurance that no one’s personal data was compromised, according to Saanich police Sgt. Dean Jantzen.

"The information on these devices was not copied, distributed, or exploited. We want to part of everyday people living in fear that their personal information is being used against them to take they're (sic) hard earned money," the letter reads. But police aren't buying it.

“We think this is someone trying to pull a fast one on us,” Jantzen said. “We think this is a ruse by someone who wants to allay the public’s fears. But what they may have done is transferred the data, they’ll sit on it, and then go ahead and start defrauding people in a couple of months.”

Two flash drives were stolen in the break-in, which happened on either Jan. 7 or 8. Two drives were in the garbage bag, but one wasn’t the same as the one stolen.

“The one key flash drive is not included in the (returned) materials,” Jantzen said. “(By giving us a different flash drive), they’re trying to make us think we recovered all the stuff. … This is fairly devious if that’s the case.”

Also of concern to police is that all the electronics that were returned were “professionally destroyed.” Anything with a readable hard drive no longer works.

“In other words, we cannot confirm that (an item) has or has not been compromised,” Jantzen said, calling the methodical destruction of the electronics “sophisticated.”

There has yet to be concrete confirmation that these electronics are, in fact, those taken from UVic – Jantzen said the school has not been able to provide serial numbers for items taken – though the descriptions of the items recovered match what was stolen.

UVic employees are being urged now, more than ever, to contact their financial institutions to take the recommended steps in protecting their bank accounts.

"This is more concerning now than it was a week ago," Jantzen said. That's because of the level of sophistication involved in destroying the devices, and returning a "decoy" storage device.

"If nothing else, this is a reminder to people if they haven't already: contact their financial institutions and the credit monitoring bureaus," said Patty Pitts, spokesperson for UVic.

Police took the unusual step Thursday to release the typed note, hoping someone will read it and associate the language or phrasing with someone they know.

As well, police are urging the thief or thieves to come forward and speak to police, if their intentions in returning the devices are, in fact, genuine.

"If the motive (in returning the electronics) is truly altruism ... let's put this to bed," Jantzen said.

Written in large, block letters on the side of the green garbage bag were the words: "Stolen data from UVic. Please return."

Saanich police have received four complaints from employees about fraudulent banking activity – though investigators have doubts about whether three of those are related to the UVic theft, Jantzen said.

Meanwhile, UVic president David Turpin announced late last week that the province’s former Information and Privacy Commissioner, David Flaherty, will conduct an external review into how personal information is secured on campus.

“The review will address the events leading up to the privacy breach and the university’s response. It will also examine the university’s plans to protect sensitive personal information and make appropriate recommendations,” Turpin said.

Flaherty’s review is expected to take four months.

Anyone with information on the UVic break-in or data theft is asked to call Saanich police at 250-475-4321, or, if you wish to remain anonymous, call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

kslavin@saanichnews.com

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The thief's note (verbatim):

I will start off by answering your most important question. The information on these drives was not copied, distributed , or exploited.

We want no part of everyday people living in fear that their personal information is being used against them to take they're hard earning money.

It is hard enough to survive without somethinglike that happening. Its is not about hurting people its about life and its many avenues.

My avenue is different from these peoples and I dont feel right taking from them. One day I will be allowed to run my path free from the things I blame.

One last time. The information was not copied, distributed, or exploited.

Truly sorry for the level of inconvenience this has caused.

Criminals were human before they were criminals...In most cases.

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