As Fidelity executives gathered for a meeting to discuss the defined benefit and defined contribution plans the firm manages for Hewlett-Packard, one of theirs laptops containing data on 196,000 of these retirement accounts was stolen, Boston news agencies are reporting. The database included names, addresses, birth dates and Social Security numbers.

Although none of the customers has so far reported any illicit activity and Fidelity claims the data is unusable because it is scrambled, the fund giant has nonetheless assured the Hewlett-Packard employees that it would reimburse them for any money stolen from their accounts as a result of the theft. Fidelity has also contacted the top three credit reporting agencies to be on the alert with respect to these people's accounts and has advised these customers to be vigilant about their finances over the next two years.

"We value your business and the trust you have placed in Fidelity, and we deeply regret any inconvenience or concerns this may cause you," William G. Duserick, vice president and chief privacy offer for Fidelity, wrote to customers in a March 21 letter following the theft six days prior.

But some privacy and security experts fault Fidelity for putting the sensitive information on an employee's portable laptop in the first place, but say that companies all too often are not vigilant enough about keeping such sensitive information under lock and key.

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