An investigation into a security breach and breakin at the University of Victoria has taken a bizarre twist after most of the items that were stolen - minus a key computer-storage device - were found inside a garbage bag that had been left in a mailbox.
The discovery in Langford last week heightened concerns that someone may be planning to defraud UVic employees using unencrypted personal and banking information that was stored on the missing device.
"We think the situation now is more grave as far as the potential for frauds," Saanich police spokesman Sgt. Dean Jantzen said.
A Canada Post employee found the green bag in the box in the 1300 block of Bear Mountain Parkway on Jan. 18. A handwritten note on the bag said: "Stolen data from UVic. Please return."
Inside, police found a second note as well as a number of laptops, computer flash drives and media-storage devices believed to have been taken from a university administration building. The theft was discovered Jan. 8.
The unsigned, computer-generated note in the bag apologized for causing any inconvenience and claimed that none of the information on the hard drives had been misused.
"The information on these drives was not copied, distributed, or exploited," the note said. "We want no part of everyday people living in fear that their personal information is being used against them to take they're (sic) hard earned money."
Police said the devices that were returned had all been "thoroughly and professionally destroyed," making it impossible to recover any data or determine for certain whether they were the ones stolen from UVic.
Police showed the items to university officials who recognized most of them.
But the officials insisted that one media storage device did not belong to them.
The phoney device resembles a stolen drive that contained most of the unencrypted information on nearly 12,000 current and former employees.
"Why return this data absent the one key media drive that does have all the concerning data on it - 99 per cent of the concerning data?" Jantzen said.
"Someone or some people have taken the time to actually mock up a dummy media-storage device and include it in the materials returned, suggesting: 'Here you are, everything's been returned and all is well.'
"In our minds, all is not well . . . This goes beyond just a sick prank in our minds, leading us to believe this is something more sinister."
Jantzen said the concern is that the thief or thieves hope to throw the police off their trail, and dupe some employees into thinking that there is no longer a risk. He advised all employees who have not already done so to contact their banks and credit agencies and take steps to protect their finances and identities.
"We are really trying to head off any future frauds," he said.
Police took the rare step of releasing the note in its entirety in hopes that someone will recognize the words or phrases used.
"We think the note is unique," Jantzen said.
Anyone with information is urged to contact police or Crime Stoppers. firstname.lastname@example.org