Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Sensational Heists

The Biggest Identity Theft Case in U.S. History

It is most peoples worst nightmare. They provide personal information, such as a Social Security number or bank information to a company in the hopes of obtaining a credit card or a credit report, only to later find that they are mysteriously thousands of dollars poorer.  To their horror, they finally realize that the information eventually ended up in the hands of a thief who robbed them of their life savings.

Perhaps one of the biggest known cases of identity theft occurred between 1999 and 2000 and was orchestrated by a credit-company help desk employee named Philip Cummings, 33, of Carterville, Georgia. While working at Teledata Communications Inc. (TCI), a Long Island software company that provide banks with computerized access to credit information databases, Cummings stole thousands of credit reports by using passwords of the company, ABC News reported in January 2005. He was paid roughly $30 for each stolen report, which he then passed on to some 20 other people. The thieves then either resold the information or simply cashed in by obtaining credit cards or delving into others personal bank accounts. According to the FBI, Cummings continued using his inside knowledge to download and sell credit reports even after he left the company after several months of working there. 

Philip Cummings
Philip Cummings

The network was part of a huge international identity theft ring, involving mostly Nigerian nationals, the FBI said. The scam victimized at least 30,000 victims of an estimated $100 million. The theft went on for several years before the FBI finally put a stop to it.

The first break in the case came in the winter of 2002 when representatives of Ford Motor Credit realized that they had been billed by TCI for thousands of credit reports they never ordered, Greg Farrell reported in a USA Today article. During an investigation, the FBI found that there were many more companies who were also billed for thousands of unauthorized credit reports.

The victims of the scam suffered significant losses. Farrell said that one of the victims discovered that a $35,000 line of credit was opened in her name, $34,000 of which was stolen. Many victims lost their entire life savings. Even though most were financially reimbursed, the emotional impact was devastating, causing some to feel severe anxiety when they gave out personal information to other people.

Cummings and several other people he conspired with were eventually arrested. Renay San Miguel reported in a CNN article that one of his accomplices, Emanuel S. Ezediaro was charged with buying and selling tens of thousands of credit reports. Linus Baptiste of New Rochelle, New York, and Hakeem Muhammad of the Bronx were also arrested and later pled guilty to conspiracy and fraud charges.

In January 2005, Cummings also pled guilty to fraud and conspiracy charges before U.S. District Judge George B. Daniels. He apologized during the hearing, stating that he didnt realize that he or his accomplices caused so much damage, although he was aware of what he did was wrong and illegal, MSNBC News reported. The judge said that the financial and personal damage he caused was almost unimaginable. Consequently, he sentenced Cummings to 14 years in prison.  

ID fraud is a growing concern in the United States and is costing consumers and businesses hundreds of millions of dollars every year. The Federal Trade Commission stated that they received over 635,000 fraud related complaints in 2004, 39% of which involved identity theft. Almost a third of ID thefts involved credit -card scams. BBC News reported in February 2005 that the report marks the fifth year in a row in which identity fraud has topped the table.

Due to the increasing rate of ID fraud, consumers must safeguard their personal information now more than ever before. There are many ways to prevent it from happening, although no one method is 100% secure. For example, consumers can shred unwanted documents that have important personal information on them; check their credit status a couple times a year; keep important banking documents, checks and credit card statements in a secure location; contact the post office if they dont regularly receive; and check the identity of people they give personal information to. Such preventative methods can significantly reduce the chances of consumers becoming the next victim of ID fraud.


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