Trust is pinnacle when nurturing a working relationship with a supplier, and most of us have faith when we first work with a vendor that they will work in ways that are always looking out for our best interests.  The same holds true as consumers, as we ultimately trust that universities, banks, hospitals, and other institutions will practice great care in keeping our private information secure and safe. So what happens when a vendor breaks this agreement of trust? Who is ultimately responsible-the information gatherer or the information distributor?

a guy dealing with a lot of networks

In a rather unfortunate event for both The University of Virginia (UVa) and Aetna Health Care, the Social Security Numbers of 18,700 UVa students appeared on the mailing labels of Aetna Health Care promotional mail pieces.  UVa provided the data to Aetna, who sourced a third-party vendor to process the mailings for them.  While the Social Security Numbers are not easily identifiable as Social Security Numbers on the printed pieces, the information was still wrongly printed and could do some damage if the piece lands in the wrong hands.

This is a huge deal for all three parties involved, including UVa, Aetna Health Care, and the third-party mailing vendor (who did not want to be  identified).  While blame can be tossed back and forth for this mishap and we don’t know all the details, I believe the error occurred as the result of a flawed proofing process.

As a mailing vendor it is imperative that a proofing process is established that protects customers’ valuable and sensitive information.

We often hear so much about the technology, systems, and processes in place that make data secure, from encryption to secure infrastructures, that the human aspect of data handling falls to the wayside.  While most mailers have processes and practices to automate  their production and to cut down on errors, there is always the chance that human error can still take place. Read more here.

Fragile, Handle with care

Proofing is fundamental to any large print/mail project like this one.  At B&B, mailing proofs are built into the proofing process, allowing for our customers to see exactly what will be entering the mail stream.  We like to put multiple eyeballs on the mailing proofs to ensure we cover all perspectives.

While we don’t have all the facts on what happened between the labeling and mailing stages of this process, it’s safe to say that an important step went awry.  We can’t emphasize enough how important data stewardship is, especially as we want to continue to have solid relationships built on trust.


UVa is taking swift actions to ensure that the data breach’s potentially harmful effects are kept to a minimum, offering the 18,700 students whose Social Security Number’s were printed free credit monitoring for the next year.  UVa feels that this occurrence is just “…a big mistake,” and is taking every precaution to make sure it never happens again.

What steps are you taking to protect your data? Contact us today to discover how to keep private information private.

By +Maggie Young


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