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Federal Regulators Issue Standards for Customer Notice Following Security Breaches

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, along with the other bank and thrift regulatory agencies, has issued guidance describing response programs, including customer notice, for security breaches (PDF) that involve unauthorized access to customer information.

Financial institutions have an affirmative duty to protect their customers’ information against unauthorized access or use. Notifying customers of a security incident involving the unauthorized access or use of the customer’s information in accordance with the standard set forth below is a key part of that duty.

Timely notification of customers is important to manage an institution’s reputation risk. Effective notice also may reduce an institution’s legal risk, assist in maintaining good customer relations, and enable the institution’s customers to take steps to protect themselves against the consequences of identity theft. When customer notification is warranted, an institution may not forgo notifying its customers of an incident because the institution believes that it may be potentially embarrassed or inconvenienced by doing so.

When a financial institution becomes aware of an incident of unauthorized access to sensitive customer information, the institution should conduct a reasonable investigation to promptly determine the likelihood that the information has been or will be misused. If the institution determines that misuse of its information about a customer has occurred or is reasonably possible, it should notify the affected customer as soon as possible.

Customer notice may be delayed if an appropriate law enforcement agency determines that notification will interfere with a criminal investigation and provides the institution with a written request for the delay. However, the institution should notify its customers as soon as notification will no longer interfere with the investigation.

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