EFI victims’ bank account numbers released
November 13, 2009
By KAREN VELIE
In the age of rampant identity theft, San Luis Obispo County officials, in a recent mailing to Estate Financial Inc. (EFI) victims, deliberately placed some investor bank account numbers on the outside of envelopes they mailed to the victims through their financial institutions.
“My bank called me and said that they had received a letter from the probation department,” investor Ulf Erenius said. “They were very astonished and wanted me to come pick it up. This I did and I found the most amazing thing, the county government center had put my name, bank account, and name of the bank in the address label for anyone to read.”
The mailing included a letter explaining that victims had a right to appear in person or through an attorney at the Dec. 7 sentencing hearing of EFI principals Karen Guth and Joshua Yaguda and a request for victims to return to the county a form that listed how much they had lost to the notorious investment firm.
More than 3,000 investors, primarily seniors, entrusted their nest eggs with EFI. In July 2008, EFI’s portfolio contained more than $317 million in monies owed to investors, though less than $25,000 remained unencumbered.
“We know that bank account information was listed on a number of the mailings,” said San Luis Obispo Deputy Dist. Atty. Steve von Dohlen who has worked on the case for more than a year. “Regarding knowing who all 3,000 accounts belong to, we haven’t done that yet. We are working on that now.”
While the district attorneys office has not yet been able to determine exactly who the victims are, numerous EFI investors said they have received mailings from the bankruptcy trustees and questioned why the county was not using the same list as the federal government.
In addition to mailing a letter to Erenius’ bank, the county sent a duplicate letter to his home address.
“Because we did not want to omit anyone, we would rather possibly send a person two notices than accidentally leave them out,” von Dohlen said in an e-mail in which he shrugged off concerns about privacy issues. “While I can appreciate and understand your concern regarding the use of your account number on such correspondence, please know that based on the records we have, this was the best way for us to make contact with the responsible party associated with that account from EFI’s original records.”
District attorney officials provided the mailing database to the probation department a few weeks ago with instructions that it produce a list of those who don’t return the requested information. Probation was given approximately a month to finalize the report.
In the rush to contact the victims, probation department officials mailed out letters without discovering that the district attorney provided investor list including personal information as part of the address.
In contrast to the district attorney officials’ view that it was acceptable to post account numbers in address windows, probation officials are opposed to displaying personal information on the outside of envelopes and said they plan to correct the list before sending out any future mailings.
“I told the person that does the mailing that we need to go through the list and remove bank account numbers,” said Probation Department Administrative Services Division Manager Ed Liedsher. “We are going to go through and try to locate the people that have moved and did not leave forwarding address. It is a monumental task.”