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Data Breach Victims Sue Rhode Island Transit Agency, Insurer

Two people whose personal information was compromised in a data breach at Rhode Island’s public bus service that affected about 22,000 people sued the agency and a health insurer on Tuesday seeking monetary damages and answers.

The class-action suit filed in Providence Superior Court by cooperating attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island names the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority and United Healthcare as defendants.

The personal information of roughly 5,000 RIPTA employees and retirees and thousands of other current, former and retired state workers, including Social Security numbers and Medicare identification numbers, was hacked in August 2021 through unauthorized access to RIPTA’s computer system.

“When an individual’s confidential personal and health care information is compromised, that individual will have to worry about the potential for identity theft which could lead to financial ruin by impacting their savings, livelihood, credit score, and access to health care,” ACLU attorney Peter Wasylyk said. “It can cause significant stress for the rest of that individual’s lifetime.”

The compromised information was provided by United, which previously administered the state employee health plan.

A United spokesperson said in a statement that the company is cooperating with the state attorney general’s office’s ongoing investigation into the breach.

“Protecting member privacy is a top priority and we continue to work with multiple parties to understand the data breach that impacted the Public Transit Authority’s computer system,” the statement said.

A spokesperson for RIPTA said in an email that the agency had no comment.

Alexandra Morelli, who works for the state but has never worked for RIPTA, said the data breach led to fraudulent withdrawals totaling thousands of dollars from her personal bank account and the unauthorized use of her credit cards, all while she was trying to plan her wedding.

She spent countless hours working with her bank, credit bureaus, and law enforcement trying to protect her personal information.

“This entire experience was and has continued to be extremely frustrating and anxiety provoking,” she said.

The suit alleges negligence by the state agency and the insurer, as well as violations of two state laws intended to protect personal information.

The suit also seeks a court order requiring the defendants to strengthen their cybersecurity safeguards and answers to what it says are unanswered questions, such as why RIPTA had the information of people who did not work at the agency and why it took fourth months to alert the victims about the breach.

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