Employees Steel Identities

Employees Steel Identities

With South Florida leading the nation in identity theft, companies especially need to safeguard employees’ and clients’ personal information from being taken by dishonest co-workers.

More identity theft is coming not from thieves stealing a purse or wallet but from employees swiping personal information from the files of a facility or office where they work, said L.T. Lafferty, a former federal prosecutor and now the lead lawyer for the statewide, white-collar-crime law firm of Fowler White Boggs, which has an office in Fort Lauderdale.

Two companies recently hired Lafferty to investigate alleged employee thefts from company records. One was being paid for each name, Social Security number and birth date he managed to get away with, Lafferty said. The other was promised a cut of proceeds from the illegal use of IDs he swiped.

“The new threat is employees — not phishing,” Lafferty said.

Employers need to build a sound data security plan to protect what personal information is in files and on computers, said Cindy A. Liebes, the Southeast regional director of the Federal Trade Commission. “Lock it,” she recommended.

Otherwise, many workers — including cleaning crews — can have access, said Larry Gomer, chief of the North Miami Beach Police Department, which has investigated several identity theft cases.

In South Broward, the Memorial Healthcare System is limiting employees’ access to files with Social Security numbers and other personal information after two workers were accused in April of stealing patients’ identities to file fraudulent federal tax returns for refunds, said Kerting Baldwin, Memorial’s media relations director. Memorial also is encouraging employees to report co-workers they see copying information from patients’ files, she said.

“We have instituted a number of changes, and we are being very proactive,” Baldwin said in an e-mail.

Other companies have policies that require employees to shred anything they write down from personal files. They also have banned workers from texting or emailing while they have access to files, Lafferty said.

Some employers still are searching for security breaks. In Davie, police haven’t been able to determine how about 160 officers and firefighters’ identities were stolen in the last two years before they could file their federal tax returns, said Police Capt. Dale Engle, who was one of this year’s victims.

Police eliminated an outside vendor as a possible suspect, and officers don’t think town employees took the IDs because of strict internal precautions, Engle said.

dgehrke@tribune.com, 954-356-4404 or Twitter @donnagehrke

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