Financial services giant Fidelity Investments confirmed that a laptop containing the personal information of almost 200,000 Hewlett-Packard employees was stolen from its property.
The Boston-based retirement investment specialists said that the laptop specifically contained the personal data of some 196,000 participants in HPs retirement plans that had been put on the machine for a meeting.
Fidelity did not offer exact details of the laptops actual theft, but contends that the incident was related to a property-oriented crime versus a targeted ploy to steal customer information.
Fidelity spokesmen said that it is unaware of any misuse of the data stored on the stolen computer and indicated that the application in question was running on a temporary license that has since expired.
The company said that law enforcement officials are already investigating the incident.
Fidelity did not disclose whether or not the data on the laptop contained customers social security numbers, but it indicated that there was detailed personal information in the device.
The theft affected only participants in HPs retirement plans, the investment firm said.
"It is not our practice to have that level of data on a laptop," said Anne Crowley, a Fidelity spokeswoman.
"We limit significantly the use of such confidential data outside of Fidelity to only those instances where the information is appropriate or required for meetings with clients about their specific plans and participants. The information [on the laptop] was for the purposes of a business meeting attended by a small group of Fidelity employees."
Fidelity promised that it has also taken additional steps to restrict access to the accounts of its customers involved in the theft.
However, if personal information including peoples names, addresses and social security numbers has been compromised, those affected individuals become potential candidates for broader identity theft.
The company has set up a support line for customers worried if they were affected by the incident, and said it has also informed major U.S. credit agencies to watch out for unusual activity related to the stolen laptop.
HP representatives confirmed that the company was informed of the theft and said that the company is working closely with Fidelity to minimize the impact of the situation, which it classified as an "information breach."
The Fidelity laptop theft is only the latest in a series of consumer data losses occurring at high-profile U.S. companies. In recent weeks alone, firms including CitiBank, Ernst & Young and the New York Times Co. have reported significant customer information breaches.