The billing records of 2.2 million people at University of Utah Hospitals and Clinics are missing because they were swiped out of a courier's car. Instead of directly delivering the backup information tapes to a secure mountainside vault, the courier for Perpetual Storage went to his second job and then home. A gray metal box containing 16 years of billing records was stolen from the man's vehicle while it was parked outside his Kearns home.

Now, the whereabouts of records containing 1.3 million Social Security numbers is unknown. They may have been discarded when the thieves thought the gray case contained cash. Or they could potentially be used to steal people's identities.

The University of Utah Health Sciences will spend about a half-million dollars just for stamps and envelopes to notify patients of the theft. It also is offering free credit monitoring. A review of data security policies and procedures is under way. Meanwhile, deliveries by Perpetual Storage have been suspended.

Affected patients need not wait until they receive a letter from the university. They can contact the nation's credit bureaus themselves. They can also lock their credit lines by contacting each of the credit bureaus, which are TransUnion, Equifax and Experian. They can be found online at:

www.transunion.com

www.equifax.com

www.experian.com

Perpetual Storage has handled records for the university's hospitals and clinics for 12 years. This event was an aberation, university officials said. Company officials said the courier, who had worked for the company for 18 years, has been fired.

Regardless, the carelessness of one courier has placed 2.2 million people at risk of identity theft. No matter how diligent individuals are about protecting sensitive information such as Social Security numbers, they are only as secure as the agencies and private concerns that also have access to this information.

Patients who place great trust in the university's hospitals and clinics for their health-care needs also expect their identifying information to be kept secure. The university must labor to restore public confidence and assist people affected by this needless error.