The value of a newspaper subscriber list has long been appreciated. An article in the Cairo, Ill. Herald
from April 6, 1916 spells it out: "The Herald would just as soon think of giving away its big newspaper press or its new $3,800 linotype machine as giving away its subscription list. That list has cost the Herald company over $1,000 to acquire and it has been gotten as the result of the hardest kind of work… To give away that medium means complete ruination."
In the internet age, subscriber information is protected largely for fear of identity theft, but recent burglaries in California show what can happen when subscriber lists fall into the wrong hands.
The Los Angeles Times Vacation List Burglaries
According to LA Weekly
, four men have been charged in connection with over $1 million in stolen property that was taken from addresses on the newspaper's vacation list -- a list of subscribers who wanted their newspapers held while they were traveling. A contracted copier repairman for distribution centers that contract with the paper for home delivery gained access to the vacation lists and handed them over to a burglary crew in exchange for a percentage of the money gained from selling stolen items.
While only 25 victims have been identified, an estimated 100 people fell victim to the scam. The case was broken in January 2013 when police responded to a call in Monrovia about a suicidal woman and found a "large cache of cameras and other electronics." Upon further investigation, police obtained search warrants that led them to a storage facility filled with stolen property.
The Contra Costa Times Vacation List Burglaries
In February, a similar case
was reported in Contra Costa County, California. Two burglars were arrested after they allegedly used a subscriber vacation list from The Contra Costa Times
to burglarize at least one home. The pair of burglars was caught when a local resident saw them drive off in the car he had left idling. The car theft is believed to have been a crime of opportunity, but when the car was returned to its owner after the thieves were arrested, the owner discovered a list of subscribers to The Contra Costa Times
who had requested a vacation hold on deliveries. At least one other burglary is believed to be linked with the vacation subscriber list.
The Los Angeles Times
reassured subscribers that no other personal information (such as financial or credit card data) was involved in the robberies. "[T]hese robberies, while terribly unfortunate, are likely limited to a small section of the vast area we cover. We continuously review and upgrade our policies and systems to protect and best serve our customers and have eliminated our vacation pack service to prevent any future concern," said Times
communications vice president Nancy Sullivan.
The Contra Costa Times
has begun an internal investigation as to how the vacation list fell into the wrong hands. A representative for the Bay Area News Group, which distributes The Contra Costa Times
, said that hold lists no longer indicate if a subscriber is on vacation.
What You Should Do
These incidents highlight the importance of taking special precautions with home security when you travel. If you have a trusted neighbor or friend
who can collect your newspapers, there will be no record of your having placed a vacation hold, possibly helping protect your home should a vacation list be obtained by criminals. Vacation home security should also involve using timers to switch multiple lights on and off, continuing to have your yard mowed, and securing every door and window. A home security system adds another layer of home security that can help protect your home -- whether you're at home or out of town.