All about how it happens and how you can keep it from happening to you.
March 2009 - Posts
Wow. Last week’s weird ID theft news was all about the Boob Bandit. This week it’s Sheila Rodgers Cudgel, The Rhinoplasty Robber.
Cudgel, a Houston resident, acquired her victim’s personal information and used it to open new credit accounts, racking up almost $40,000 in charges, including the nose job that cost $10,500.
What is up will these identity thieves and their body modifications? I can understand their desire for new goodies like electronics and cars, but have no sympathy for those who steal another’s identity to pay for them. I can even (sort of) sympathize with people who commit identity theft because they have no other means of providing shelter, utilities or food for their families.
But to commit identity theft for something as unnecessary and vain as bigger boobs, narrower butt or a smaller nose? That’s just wrong, wrong, wrong, and the losers who commit these crimes get no compassion from me. In fact, if I were the one doling out their punishment, I’d sentence these criminals to the restoration of body fat, the repossession of implants and the restructuring of a plentiful proboscis.
(Full disclosure notice: It might be that the magnitude my own malice stems from my own vain desire for liposuction and jowl eradication.)
Crime Stoppers has offered a $5,000 reward for any information leading to Cudgel’s arrest and conviction.
Many mortgage brokers got rich in those golden days of inflated housing prices and loose credit. Jerry Van Le, a mortgage broker from the Sacramento area, made his millions by stealing Social Security numbers from his clients’ mortgage applications, according to an affidavit filed in federal court last week.
Le is accused of stealing the Social Security numbers of dozens of children, immigrants and others who hadn’t yet established credit.
Le allegedly used some of the stolen information to buy a house worth roughly $.5 million, five vehicles, electronics and luxury clothing and shoes. So far, police have impounded a $100,000 BMW 645 Ci, a $87,000 Mercedes, a new Toyota Tacoma pickup
truck and a $50,000 2003 BMW 745 Li. They've also seized $100,000 in credit cards.
The affidavit also states that Le sold other Social Security numbers nationwide for anywhere from $3,500 to $6,000 a piece.
Within an 18-month period, roughly 2,400 individuals made fraudulent purchases with information they bought from or through Le, according to a Placer County Sheriff’s detective.
Employees at Highway Furniture/NewYork Funding Group Inc. allegedly manufactured credit histories based on the stolen Social Security numbers so the stolen identities appeared credit worthy and could be used to make purchases.
“It’s a $100 million ring,” said Lauren Horwood, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Sacramento.
Child identity theft is thought to be a rapidly growing crime, with at least 500,000 children victimized annually. Children make especially appealing targets for identity thieves because the crimes are usually not discovered until many years later when the child turns 18 and applies for credit to finance college or a first car.
Le was charged with bank, wire and computer fraud, but did not enter a plea during his initial court appearance last week.
If Peter Galucci hadn’t been the curious type, there’s no
telling how long it would have taken Marc Paul Griffith to get a job. He’d already
applied for jobs with five other police agencies in Oregon, and been rejected each time.
Those disappointments, coupled with the denial of Marc and
Rachel Griffith’s mortgage application, had the Griffiths flummoxed; they’d always been very
responsible and paid all their bills on time. Marc’s resume was impeccable. He was
in the Air Force and had just completed a tour of duty in Iraq as an
airman. Why weren’t things working out for them?
When Galucci, a sheriff’s background investigator compared
that impeccable resume to Griffith’s
rap sheet, things just didn’t add up. Galucci’s investigation revealed that Griffith had a history of
unpaid hospital, phone and utility bills, unresolved traffic violations, a
suspended driver’s license and outstanding arrest warrants.
The only plausible explanation was identity theft.
Travelle “Cash” Bradford, of Phoenix,
was stopped for a traffic violation last week, and presented Griffith’s insurance number and paperwork. He
was arrested and charged with identity theft and forgery.
Some of the Griffith’s
prayers have been answered--Griffith finally a
job as a sheriff’s deputy in Clackamas
County—but they still
have a questions about what happened to them.
They were always careful to tear up their mail before
disposing of it, and they’ve never so much as driven through Phoenix. So how did Bradford
get Marc Paul Griffith’s personal information? Like most identity theft
victims, the Griffiths
will probably never find out how it happened.
For now they’re living with their kids and dogs in a third
floor apartment in a neighborhood that scares them both. So many of their
neighbors have been arrested that Griffith
changes into his sheriff’s deputy uniform at work, just to avoid trouble.
Rachel Griffith has a new full-time job, too. She works full
time trying to resolve the legal and financial problems left in the wake of the
identity theft. There are only four more fraudulent accounts to close out, and
she figures that should take only about six more months.
How can you tell it’s springtime? The daffodils are blooming; the pollen is pooling; the rivers are flooding; and millions of us are hunched over our computers trying to file our income taxes.
Unfortunately, as sure as springtime brings spring flowers, it also brings out a new crop of identity thieves looking to harvest taxpayers’ personal and financial information.
Heed to these simple tips to secure your information during tax season:
The IRS will never, NEVER contact you by email or phone requesting any information; if the IRS wants to contact you, they will only do so by mail. If you get an email this is purportedly from the IRS, delete it immediately without clicking on any links. Immediately hang up on callers who say they’re calling from the IRS.
If you’re hiring a tax preparer, do so carefully. Use only a reputable accountant or tax preparation firm.
If you’re preparing your own taxes online, make sure you have a full complement of security applications and firewalls installed and updated.
If you’re using file-sharing software (e.g. Lime Wire), delete it NOW.
If you’re sending your tax forms by snail mail, or will receive your refund in a mailbox, do not use your home mailbox. Use a post office box instead, even if you decide to rent it just during tax season.
Lock up all your tax-related documents where prying eyes and sticky fingers cannot access them. If you have to transport them, keep them locked in your car’s trunk. Never leave them on the seat of your car.
Shred any documents you don’t need. Buy the best shredder you can afford. Look for a micro-cut shredder because the same software to reconstruct shredded mail that government spies have used for years is available to anyone online for as little as $90 a month.
At Blogiversity, we work hard to keep you abreast of all the latest identity theft news. Today’s big story is about a woman who stole another woman’s identity to pay for breast implants and liposuction.
It started last September when the identity thief used the stolen identity to open a line of credit at the Pacific Center for Plastic Surgery in Huntington Beach California.
Employees at the medical facility identified Yvonne Pampellonne out of a photo lineup, and police are now looking to bust her. They've provided the photo below to augment their chances of apprehending her.
The staffers said Pampellonne lied to them and her doctor about her name and other personal information.
The employees became suspicious and called police when Pampellonne failed to come back to the clinic for her important post-operative follow-up appointments.
An arrest warrant was issued last week for Pampellonne's arrest on
charges of commercial burglary, grand theft and identity theft. County records show the suspect has no criminal record, but was convicted of several traffic infractions, including driving on a suspended or revoked driver’s license, and driving without proof of insurance.
Walgreens is taking full responsibility for last week’s data breach in which the personal information of 28,000 retired Kentucky state employees was emailed without encryption.
Birthdates, Social Security numbers, and health insurance claims numbers were among the information sent from Walgreens to an employee at the Kentucky Retirement Systems.
Though the intended KRS employee received the email, and there is no evidence of interception, the unencrypted message was a violation of the KRS security procedures agreed to by Walgreens and Walgreens’ own security policies.
The likelihood that the retirees will become identity theft victims as a result of the security violation is considered “minimal.” Nonetheless, Walgreens and KRS each issued notifications to retirees.
The email contained information of Medicare-eligible members who used their retiree pharmacy benefits through Walgreens in 2007.
Businesses were responsible for 36.6 of all reported data breaches last year, a figure that represents a significant increase over the 21% of data breaches they caused in 2006, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center’s 2008 report.
The number of government/military data breaches dropped by almost 50% for the same period, the ITRC reported.
In 1964, the U.S. Supreme Court struggled to define obscenity. It was within that context that Justice Potter Stewart spoke the immortal words “I know it when I see it.”
The Identity Theft Prevention and Identity Management Standards Panel (IDSP) met last fall and again last month with a similar goal—defining identity theft and methods for more accurately determining the crime’s magnitude.
As the number of reported data breaches and identity theft crimes escalates, so too does the number of relative studies and, proportionately, reporters—all of us trying to accurately deliver the latest information.
As identity theft writers, our articles are often filled with statistics drawn from respected government, non-profit, law enforcement and security industry sources, but somehow the numbers don’t always match up.
The problem is this: there are no standard definitions or consistent methodologies for tallying the damage; what one organization calls identity theft, another calls identity fraud. In other words, we all think we know identity theft when we see it.
The same confusion surrounds the reportage of data breaches. Sometimes data breaches are publicly reported, but often not. In some cases the numbers of effected records are unknown or are only added to a total if a Social Security number was part of the exposed record.
So far the IDSP has settled on a distinction between identity theft and identity fraud, determining that identity theft is the accessing of personal data; identity fraud is the use of that data.
The panel’s work to establish standard methodologies for reporting and measuring the total extent of identity theft, fraud and data breaches is ongoing. Nine years passed between the time Justice Potter presented his working definition of obscenity, and the time the Court was able to define it less ambiguously. The IDSP is faced with no less daunting a task, but making much faster progress.
Charles McLaurin appeared in court March 5 to face charges related to two identity theft cases … but then he left the courtroom when U.S. District Judge Bruce Kauffman recessed to determine his sentence and is now gone, baby, gone.
McLaurin, a 30-year-old Philadelphia resident, was charged with leading an identity theft ring that stole the identities of Camden County NJ school district teachers and retirees, and using the information to open credit cards accounts. The crimes, which took place between December 2001 and June 2003, resulted in roughly $71,000 in losses.
In a 2005 scheme, McLaurin used a neighbor’s identity to open new credit card accounts and take out car loans. In this case he racked up $30,000 in damages.
McLaurin had already pleaded guilty in December to the charges resulting from both cases before he made the March 5 court appearance for sentencing, but apparently didn’t like the way things were shaping up for him, so he split.
Overly-trusting U.S. marshals called him and talked to him on the phone that same night, and he assured them he’d be back in court the next day to face justice.
The judge was expected to sentence McLaurin to 10 years and restitution of $101,000.
Big surprise: He never showed up.
McLaurin, who was on house arrest, has now been indicted for failing to appear for his March 6 sentencing and the judge has handed down a bench warrant for his arrest. The failure to appear charge carries a maximum three-year sentence. The judge is not expected to show lenience or generosity in his sentencing.
Another big surprise: Gwenda Brown, McLaurin’s mom and an alleged accomplice in the schoolteacher identity theft case, is also a fugitive.
Nancy Jean Siegel was convicted yesterday on a murder charge, but it’s the other convictions for identity theft, bank fraud, mail fraud and stealing government property that tell the story of why she finally killed Jasper “Jack” Watkins.
Watkins was 75 when he met Siegel in 1994. Siegel, at 46, was on probation for stealing wallets and forging checks, and was selling burial plots door-to-door in the Baltimore suburb where Watkins lived.
A month after they began their 18-month relationship, Siegel was already using Watkins’ identity to run up debts on his existing credit card accounts and to open dozens of new ones. She concealed her activities by diverting his mail to her address.
She persuaded him to lease a $44,000 BMW for her. She convinced him to refinance his paid-off house so he could give her $20,000. She told him she would use the money to buy a condo they would live in after they married. The wedding never took place, and Siegel used the money to buy herself clothes, jewelry and other luxuries.
By April 2006 Watkins sold his home, netting him only $4,000 after the debts were paid off. Desperate for more money, Siegel pawned his last belongings; the well had finally run dry.
Once Watkins was no longer a source of money for Siegel, she starved him, sedated him and strangled him. She stuffed his emaciated body in a trunk and dumped it as trash next to a garbage can on the Appalachian Trail.
Even after his death Siegel continued to use his identity to obtain more credit. Because Siegel had so isolated Watkins from his friends and family, no one ever reported him missing, and his $1,200 in monthly retirement benefits check Siegel was also convicted of cashing at least 34 of the monthly benefits checks that came to her address in Watkins’ name.
Federal prosecutors said that though Watkins may have been the only person she killed, he was one of 10 to 50 victims.
Siegel stole her first husband’s identity and ran up $100,000 in credit debt. She did the same to her second husband, but was only able to bilk him out of $18,000 before he threatened to press charges. He said only her violence kept him from going to the police.
When Siegel killed Watkins, she had already begun a relationship with the man who would become her third husband. She stole his identity, too, and obtained between $200,000 and $300,000 dollars in debts and goods.
Jose Carillo was arrested with more than $1 million worth of fraudulently purchased merchandise, equipment for making counterfeit credit cards and was caught on tape buying $100,000 worth of gasoline with the cards--and he's not even considered the kingpin in the identity theft ring.
Even after law enforcement officers knew where Carillo had set up shop it wasn’t easy to get to him: His house was at the end of a dirt road in Sunland Cal. and protected by a chain-link fence and a yard full of dogs. The room where Carillo manufactured fraudulent credit cards was under the house and accessible only through a closet door.
Authorities found a lot of big-ticket loot stashed in storage areas on Carillo’s property besides the credit cards and the equipment for making them. The evidence included a 1989 Rolls Royce, a BMW 745, a Bombardier ski boat, a Ford F-250 pickup truck, six plasma TVs and numerous computers still in their boxes.
Cardholder information was gathered using skimmers in gas pumps at truck stops. Once account information was used to create the new bogus credit cards, they were used, not just in California where they originated, but also in Arizona, Nevada, Texas and Pennsylvania.
“That’s why we know it’s a nationwide operation,” said Sgt. Joshua Mankini of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department identity theft division.
As many as 10,000 people have been victimized by the identity theft ring, according to the authorities.
Carillo faces 45 ID theft charges and is being held on $2 million bail.
Antonio Lopez was also arrested in the sting and has been charged with 54 counts of identity theft, buying the vehicles with other people’s identities and being in the U.S. illegally. He’s being held on $1 million bail.
Wendy Dore made the most of her job at a State Farm office in St. Martinville Louisiana. In fact, short of pawning the tires off her boss’s car, she made the most money for herself that she possibly could.
Dore was arrested last week by the Louisiana State Police Insurance Fraud and Auto Theft Unit and charged with two counts of identity theft; two counts of forgery; one count of felony theft; and one count of unfair trade practices.
According Mike Calamari, assistant director of the Louisiana Department of Insurance, is accused of the following illegal activities”
Changing policyholders’ addresses, and cashing $19,591 in checks diverted to her home address.
Collecting $1,251 in cash premium payments that she kept for herself, and covering up the crime by making the premium payments to State Farm with a credit card she obtained by stealing her boss’s personal information.
Withdrawing cash from customers’ life insurance policies.
Stealing $734 in overpayments, and covering it up by entering the correct premium amount into the company computer.
Dore’s alleged illegal activities at the State Farm office took place between January 2006 and February 2008.
So far, Dore has been served with a notice of a $10,000 fine, a notice that her insurance license is being revoked and a cease and desist order.
I’ve written much larger data breaches, but I don’t think I’ve ever been more amazed by an organization’s total disregard for information security than that displayed by Binghamton University in Binghamton New York.
Let me paint the picture: There is on BU’s campus a large lecture hall used on a daily basis and late into the evening. Next to the lecture hall is a two-story storage area. The door to the storage area is open—in fact the latch is taped to prevent the door’s being locked.
News reporters from WHRM casually wandered into the storage room the other night and found dozens of unlocked file cabinets and lots of open shelving. Everywhere in the room were boxes, binders and stacks of files. Within them the reporters found records of current and former student records, some dating back to the mid-90s.
Information within the records included:
- Records of tuition payments sorted by Social Security number.
- Receipts for tuition payments, complete with credit card account information.
- Residency records with tax information and copies of students’ parents’ Social Security cards.
- Scans of students’ Social Security cards, driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations.
- Scans of a letter from the U.S. government granting a student’s mother asylum.
- Scans of W-9 tax forms from a student’s parents, both parents’ social security numbers, tax forms for the parents’ business and Social Security numbers and vital information for the parents’ employees.
- Undeliverable mail that included students’ names, addresses and Social Security numbers.
The stairs to the second floor provide the only access to the lecture hall’s lighting system, so it can be reasonably assumed that a number of janitors and maintenance workers have had easy access to the records. In fact, anyone who considered stealing the records would have found the shopping cart and hand truck within the storage area an added convenience.
University officials have since contacted WHRM’s news director and advised him to secure legal representation.
Someone espousing a new age view about achieving a peaceful life explained it this way: Wearing a sign that says, “Don’t kick me” is the same as wearing a sign that says, “Kick me.” Either one attracts bad energy.
At the time I nodded politely and made a lot of thoughtful oh, uh-huh, uh-huh noises, though inwardly I was thinking “Now please get that damn sage smudge stick out of my face. ”
But wait! Maybe there’s something to what she said!
Patt Morrison, a writer for the Los Angeles Times, has just written an article about having her mail stolen … after buying a locking mailbox to avoid having her mail stolen. Police had recently intercepted a truck chockfull of stolen mail near her house. A thief made off with one of those pre-approved credit offers with attached checks from a neighbor’s box. The thief struck gold and did his patriotic best to energize the retail sector. Patt bought a locking mailbox.
Wow! Maybe Morrison’s locking mailbox was a kind of “Don’t kick me” sign ... naah. More likely it was a signal that there might be something worth stealing in the mailbox, so the thief followed its siren song and drilled out the lock.
Actually, her mail that day was mostly magazines, fliers and, Oh damn, a financial statement!
That’s when the recovery work started. She called her credit card company. She called her credit union. She called her credit monitoring service. She went to the bank. She called the Social Security Administration (no luck there; they don’t take reports like hers). Now she can start obsessively checking her credit reports (Morrison said she’ll be checking hers weekly).
Next she checked in with Sgt. Bob Berardi who works identity theft cases for the county Sheriff’s Department. He told her this:
“The psychological effect stays with you forever. Someone has burglarized you, taken something from you, forced themselves into your life, and you have no idea what that impact is going to be, today, tomorrow or down the road.”
Ain’t that a kick in the teeth?
Identity theft concerns are scaring shoppers away from the Internet, according to a survey by research and consulting firm Gartner Inc.
Thirty-nine percent of the 5,000 consumers who participated in the survey said they’ve changed their Internet behaviors because of their concern that their personal or financial information will be stolen while shopping online.
Most of those respondents (71%) said they’re simply more careful about where they do their online shopping. At the other end of the spectrum are the 15% who said they’re so worried they chose to give up online shopping entirely.
Somewhere in the middle are the folks who said they’re more careful about giving out personal and financial information, those who said they shop online less, and those who have learned to click off if they’re sent to another website when it’s time to enter payment information.
However, only a very small percentage of identity theft incidents are related to online shopping. According to a report from the Federal Trade Commission, hacking and phishing accounted for only a total 2% of identity theft in 2006.
A recent report from the Identity Theft Resource Center gives lends support to the 15% who said they’ve sworn off Internet shopping altogether. According to their report, there were 657 data breaches in 2008, a 47% increase over the 446 documented breaches in the previous year.
The ITRC divided all of the reported breaches into five categories: business, educational, government/military, health/medical and banking/financial/credit. Of those, business data breaches account for 36.8% of the total number.
If you’ve ever been a daughter, you know all about those rocky times all mother-daughter relationships go through. If you’re a lucky daughter—or mother—those rough spots get smoothed out, usually because both parties can see things from the other’s perspective, and see some of themselves in the other
Tammy Watson Whitehead, 44, of Elizabethton, Tennessee went a little too far in trying to get inside her mother’s head. She got inside her mom’s wallet, too.
Whitehead was arrested a couple days ago and charged with four counts of identity theft, two counts of theft over $1,000 and one count of theft over $10,000.
More than 80% of all identity theft victims learn someone else has been using their identity through an adverse action. Like most identity theft victims, Ellen Romaine Watson didn’t know she was a victim of identity theft until a bill collector called her about her late credit card payments. All of the bills were being sent to her daughter’s address.
As in Watson’s case, roughly a third of all identity theft is perpetrated by a friend or family member of the victim. Watson’s daughter allegedly took out four credit cards using her mother’s identifying information, leaving Watson owing $18,207.88 on an American Express card; $1,30240 on a Citi Platinum card and $2,446 on a Chase Visa card.
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