Case of mistaken Red Cross donor mail raises privacy concerns

When Laurie Morling opened a letter addressed to her from the Canadian Red Cross, she found a document addressed to a complete stranger — one with details including their home address, ID number, and previous donations.

The envelope was addressed to Laurie Morling, but the document inside wasn't

Laurie Morling says an envelope from the Canadian Red Cross was addressed to her — but the document inside was meant for someone else. (Leah Hansen/CBC)

When Laurie Morling opened a letter addressed to her from the Canadian Red Cross, she expected to find an appeal for donations.

Instead, she found a document meant for a complete stranger, one that included their home address, an ID number and details of their previous donations.

Now, Morling is wondering who ended up with the letter intended for her.

"I shred everything that's got our name and address on it because I don't want my personal information out there in the world," she said. "But who's to say the person who got mine hasn't just thrown it in the trash, and now it's out there?"

The letter inside was addressed to another Kanata resident whose initials are the same as Morling's.

How much care and control are you taking with my privacy?- Laurie Morling

Those similarities could be the cause of the mix-up, Morling said. It's given her second thoughts about whether she can trust the organization.

"This is my business, what I donate. It's not anybody else's," she said. "How much care and control are you taking with my privacy?"

'We are taking this very seriously'

In a statement, a Canadian Red Cross spokesperson said the agency is looking into how the mishap occurred.

"We have been made aware of an incident of a donor receiving the incorrect thank-you note," the statement read. "We are taking this very seriously and are currently investigating the issue internally."

The document mistakenly sent to Morling does not contain banking information, although it does include the donor's full name and details of their contributions going back to 2015.

The letter inside the envelope contained information about another donor's past contributions going back to 2015. (Leah Hansen/CBC)

Review warranted

Ann Cavoukian, Ontario's former information and privacy commissioner, said even those details can be harmful if they fall into the wrong hands.

"That's sensitive, too, what donations you've given at what times," she said. "That's very personal information related to your finances."

Attempts by CBC News to contact the person whose address was on the document were unsuccessful. Morling said she plans to shred the letter containing the stranger's information.

She's also calling on the organization to make sure the incident isn't repeated.

"They're doing their best, they're trying to help out, I get that," she said. "Just put steps and processes into place so that it doesn't happen again."

Cavoukian said that even though the mix-up appears to be a simple mistake, a review of existing security measures might be warranted.

"Privacy is all about control relating to the use and disclosure of your personal information," she said. "With the information being divulged in this unauthorized manner, that control is totally lacking."