Teachers could be ID theft victims

Teachers could be ID theft victims

John Tompkins
9/23/2007 – ANGLETON — A 1997 Houston ISD security glitch could be linked to the theft of a Brazosport ISD employee’s identity.

The Houston school district’s records apparently were compromised in October 1997, and Brazoria County Sheriff’s Office investigators are looking into the theft of a Brazosport ISD employee’s identity. The employee is going through the considerable effort to repair their credit after being the victim of such activity, investigator Jimmy Miller said.

“If anyone has applied to or worked for HISD since 1997, their ID was compromised,” Miller said. “Teachers need to protect their identities.”

Houston ISD Inspector General Robert Moore said a district employee verification report from October 2, 1997, was obtained illegally. An investigation netted suspects believed to have used information to open accounts at Conn’s Electronic and Appliance store.

The district, Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office, Houston Police Department and U.S. Secret Service conducted a series of sting operations, Moore said. Houston ISD officials do not have information on the Brazosport case.

“The only known instance of ID theft involving use of HISD employees’ personal information was investigated in 2006 and resulted in the arrest of three individuals,” Moore said. “This investigation has been closed and we are not aware of any other HISD employees affected by this incident.”

But Miller said a Brazoria County Sheriff’s Office investigation shows a connection to the Houston ISD theft. Whoever entered the Houston database apparently sold information which includes Social Security numbers, phone numbers and addresses. From there, thieves use the numbers for financial gain.

“They open new accounts in the victim’s name, and the victim usually finds out when a credit card company calls and says they’re late on payments,” Miller said. “By then, they’ve got a problem.”

In the Brazosport ISD case, someone rented an apartment using the victim’s name just to use the mailbox. They applied for credit cards of any variety and took cards from the apartment mailbox. They might not even live in the apartment — just check the mail there.

By the time the rent is overdue, the perpetrator is gone, Miller said.

“And it’s all in the victim’s name,” he said.

The Brazosport ISD employee is out $20,000 so far.

Police believe two men with Nigerian accents are at the center of the incident. One of the men is about 5-foot-8, 195 pounds with a muscular build. It’s believed he drives a brown Mercedes ES300, is well-dressed and shops at high-end stores. Anyone with information on such an individual may call the sheriff’s office at (979) 864-2216.

Anyone who applied at, or worked for, Houston ISD in 1997 — or who suspects they might be the victim of identity theft — should get a copy of their credit reports from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, Miller said. Any addresses or credit accounts they do not recognize should be reported to the bureaus immediately.

“Usually the bank absorbs the costs, but credit card companies still show you as late,” Miller said. “Now victims have to jump through hoops to get that taken off their record and it’s a really time-consuming process. Sometimes, they never get it completely clear.”

Credit information should be protected in all cases, he said.

“Don’t even carry your Social Security card in your wallet and don’t give the number to anyone,” he said. “Find a safe place to keep your card with other valuables.”

Losing control of one’s own credit can be as simple as performing everyday activities, investigator Eddie Rogers said.

“A simple toothache and visit to the dentist can cost hours and hours of pain for your financial health,” Rogers said. “Everyone should check their credit report annually.”

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