Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce has been faxing confidential information about hundreds of its customers to a scrapyard operator in West Virginia for more than three years, and he can't get them to stop.
Wade Peer says he has been overwhelmed since 2001 by internal CIBC fund transfer request forms containing the social insurance numbers, home addresses, phone numbers and detailed bank account data of several hundred bank customers.
"Had I been a bad guy, I could have got credit cards in their name, I could have assumed their identity. I could have transferred money out of their bank accounts and they'd never know that it happened," Mr. Peer said from his 12-hectare scrapyard in the rolling hills of West Virginia.
He said the fax traffic from CIBC prevented him from communicating with his customers and forced him to shut one of his businesses.
Mr. Peer said that he alerted CIBC to the error in 2001, but continues to receive the faxes, including one he got on Monday. They originate, he said, at CIBC branches from Vancouver to Halifax and are apparently intended to be transmitted to what the bank calls its central faxing unit.
"We contacted them but we couldn't get the time of day. [They said]'Sorry, not our problem.' They were rude and hung up the telephone," Mr. Peer said.
"Some of these accounts are people's nest eggs. It's what they plan on retiring on. CIBC doesn't care about it. If they did, they'd have stopped it."
CIBC says in a written statement that it responded to Mr. Peer in March of 2002 and believed that the problem was quickly resolved.
The bank says it was "a disturbing revelation" to learn that Mr. Peer was continuing to receive the faxes.
"We are undertaking a full review of this matter in light of these more recent developments to see what can be done to eliminate human error in the faxing process," CIBC spokesman Rob McLeod says in his written statement.
In a telephone interview, Mr. McLeod said the bank had also notified the office of Canada's Privacy Commissioner.
Lawyer Philippa Lawson, executive director of the Canadian Internet Public Policy Interest Centre at the University of Ottawa's law school, said: "This seems to be clearly a breach of the federal privacy legislation. [The statute]requires that all banks and companies take reasonable measure to ensure the security of their customers."
A CIBC customer whose confidential information was faxed to Mr. Peer's business was scared and angry when told last night that his data had been leaked by the bank.
"This to me is everyone's nightmare come to life. This is a disaster waiting to happen to me," said the customer, who asked for anonymity.
"My privacy has been violated royally."
Mr. Peer said that in an effort to get the bank to act, he telephoned some of the CIBC customers in 2002 to inform them that the bank was transmitting their personal and financial information to him.
"They were not real happy. When we started reading off the information that we had - your social security number, your bank account number, your telephone number, all the information - they were real unhappy about it," Mr. Peer said.
He suspects the foul-up might have been caused by an error in instructions that CIBC branches received for transmitting information to the bank's central faxing unit in Toronto.
Mr. Peer acquired a toll-free fax number for an auto accessories business he started in 1999. That number is 1-877-777-2774. The fax number for CIBC's central fax unit is 1-877-772-7749.
Mr. Peer believes that CIBC may have distributed a number to their branches that contained an extra 7 after the 8, pushing the 9 out of the real CIBC sequence and transforming the number into Mr. Peer's fax number.
Mr. Peer, who said he immediately recognized the sensitive nature of the information that was flooding in, shredded many of the first faxes he received.
They were all fund transfer requests for retirement savings plans and retirement income funds.
"I'm not even comfortable having this information," he said.
But after CIBC told him that it was not responsible for the deluge, Mr. Peer said, he started saving the faxed documents in order to prove his point.
The sensitive information now sits in a locked file cabinet in a building, guarded by his junkyard rottweiler.
He has since taken his problem to a court in Maryland, where he has filed a suit on behalf of his auto accessories business, AllStar Sportsline Products Inc., that accuses the bank of negligence and seeks $3-million (U.S.) in damages.
CIBC, in documents filed with the court, denies the allegations that its actions harmed Mr. Peer's business.
Moreover, the bank said in a court filing that AllStar failed to co-operate with CIBC's attempts to resolve the problem.
One of the transfer request forms, which is part of the court records in the lawsuit, has the CIBC logo on it and a direction at the top that says, "This form can only be used for RSP to RSP transfers (except transfers to death), RSP to RIF transfers and RIF to RIF transfers."
The form then shows directions from a Toronto-area customer to buy about $40,000 (Canadian) worth of GICs for an RRSP account. The form contains the customer's name and signature, home and business phone numbers, home address, social insurance number and bank account numbers.
The form also contains the name and business phone number of the CIBC employee who initiated the transfer.
Mr. Peer has identified more than 350 Canadian phone numbers that have sent faxes to his fax machine. He believes the Canadian numbers are assigned to CIBC branches across the country.
In a court filing this week, CIBC said it was able to confirm that 100 of the more than 350 numbers identified by Mr. Peer were fax numbers associated with its branches.
CIBC said in the filing it was continuing its own investigation to determine who was in control of the rest of the numbers provided to it by Mr. Peer.
Mr. Peer, in turn, is seeking a court order to obtain information from several Canadian telephone service providers including Bell Canada, Telus, Aliant, and MTS Communications and SaskTel to help determine who owns the fax numbers.