MAS probes case of UOB's unshredded client data

United Overseas Bank branch and headquarters at Raffles Place.
United Overseas Bank branch and headquarters at Raffles Place.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE (THE BUSINESS TIMES) - The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) is investigating a case involving UOB, which had its clients' unshredded documents found in a trashbag under a tree at Boat Quay, and said that it will take action against banks that do not safeguard the confidentiality of customer information.

"MAS is currently looking into this matter. MAS expects banks to have in place measures to safeguard the confidentiality of customer information, and will not hesitate to take action against banks which fail to do so," a spokeswoman told The Business Times in response to queries.

It said that in cases involving disclosure of banking customers' personal data, MAS will work with the Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC) to review the matter.

A PDPC spokeswoman told The Business Times the commission is aware of The Middle Ground articles that highlight the issue of documents containing personal data being disposed of by organisations, and has sought information from The Middle Ground on the matter.

A report from The Middle Ground, an online news website, revealed last week that an entire trash bag filled with UOB documents was found in June behind the bank's headquarters at Raffles Place. The reporters' "dumpster dive" unearthed several corporate statements, loan applications, and internal reports from the bank.

UOB did not deny the report and its findings. It had told The Business Times that it has concluded its investigation in the matter. But it declined to provide more details on the findings of its probe.

The bank said that it "takes very seriously" any breach of customer confidentiality. "We have a strict policy and procedures in place which govern the secure handling and disposal of confidential and sensitive information. Any staff or vendor found in breach of the policy and procedures will be dealt with accordingly."

The news portal put up pictures of the documents - with the sensitive information redacted - that had details of at least one guarantor behind a loan, with his personal details such as his NRIC number and date of birth, in full view, it said.

The Middle Ground found a document seeking a credit increase in millions from a "well-known sports apparel company". It said that it found handwritten scribbles in a notebook with client details and log-in passwords. The bank had also thrown out unshredded documents - marked confidential - of a performance report that highlighted a mix of assets and liabilities, as well as customer loans for its wholesale and retail banking units.

Checks with DBS and OCBC by The Business Times showed that banks typically shred sensitive client documents. The documents should not be discarded in trash bins, recycle bins or other publicly accessible locations.