[ISN] Feds charge 3 men with identity theft

From: InfoSec News (isnat_private)
Date: Mon Nov 25 2002 - 23:33:59 PST

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    By Paul Festa 
    Staff Writer, CNET News.com
    November 25, 2002
    Calling it the largest such bust ever, the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan
    and the FBI apprehended an alleged ring of identity thieves, accusing
    three men of stealing tens of thousands of credit reports.
    The ring is alleged to have operated over a period of three years,
    suspected of pilfering credit reports from the three major commercial
    credit reporting agencies and using that information to siphon funds
    from bank accounts and make fraudulent purchases. Authorities have
    accounted for $2.7 million in losses so far.
    At the center of the scheme as outlined Monday by Justice Department
    and FBI officials is a help-desk employee of Teledata Communications
    (TCI), a company in Bay Shore, N.Y., that lets banks and other lenders
    access credit histories compiled by Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
    The TCI employee, Philip Cummings, stands accused of wire fraud and
    conspiracy in filching lenders' passwords and subscriber codes that
    let a network of identity thieves obtain tens of thousands of credit
    reports of more than 30,000 individuals.
    TCI declined to comment.
    The government has fingered two other defendants, Linus Baptiste and
    Hakeem Mohammed, in related cases.
    "The defendants took advantage of an insider's access to sensitive
    information in much the same way that a gang of thieves might get the
    combination to the bank vault from an insider," Kevin Donovan,
    assistant director in charge of the FBI's New York field office, said
    in a statement. "But the potential windfall was probably far greater
    than the contents of a bank vault, and using 2lst century technology,
    they didn't even need a getaway car. Using the same technology, we
    determined what was done and who did it, proving that technology is a
    double-edged sword."
    Experts on identity theft said the existence of such a ring was the
    natural by-product of the existing system of computerized credit
    "This situation was a problem waiting to happen," said Linda Foley,
    executive director of the Identity Theft Resource Center in San Diego.  
    "We know that there are many cases of computer breaches where
    information (is stolen) leading to identity theft."
    Experts also blamed TCI and the credit agencies for their roles in the
    identity theft problem.
    "How much screening did (Cummings) go through before being hired for
    the help desk?" Foley said.
    A Gartner analyst pointed out the problem of too many low-level
    employees having access to consumers' personal information.
    "The fact that lower-tier employees, people who don't have as high a
    degree of accountability, have access to such information is a
    problem, and it's one we see on a regular basis," Gartner analyst Doug
    Barbin said.
    Among the TCI clients whose passwords and subscribers codes the
    identity thieves used are Ford Motor Credit's Grand Rapids, Mich.,
    branch; Washington Mutual Bank in St. Augustine, Fla.; Washington
    Mutual Finance in Crossville, Tenn.; Dollar Bank in Cleveland; and
    Central Texas Energy Supply.
    The Justice Department and FBI urged people who suspected they were
    victims of identity theft to contact the Federal Trade Commission at
    1-877-ID THEFT (1-877-428-4338) or through the commission's Web site.
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