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Safeguard Your Forms
Employees' Personal Data Used In Recent Series of Crimes

By Carla Garnett

On the Front Page...
Whether or not you realize it, the routine personnel forms you use regularly at work can be a gold mine -- at least to those with criminal intent. Some misdeeds investigated by NIH police in recent months have involved use of the personal information -- in particular, Social Security numbers and home addresses -- that for years was filled in benignly on every employee's biweekly Earnings and Leave Statement, leave requests and training nominations. Given details of the cases below, the security message is clear: Certain personal information must be safeguarded, and NIH has taken important steps in that direction.

Several months ago, NIH's Police Branch facilities on the B3-level of Bldg. 31C looked a little like a warehouse, stockpiled with new furniture still packed in their original boxes. That stockpile, Det. Jody Luke explained, was confiscated evidence from a case where personal data, probably obtained illegally from employee pay slips, was used to run up credit card bills and purchase merchandise. Police used a search warrant to remove the furniture from the home of the suspect -- a former temporary NIH worker -- who recently pleaded guilty to several fraud charges and was given an 8-year suspended jail sentence, 5 years of probation and forced to pay more than $4,000 in restitution, according to Luke.

In a similar case in 1994, Luke recalled, a woman -- a former NIH employee -- was able to open a line of credit in another employee's name and purchase a brand new Chevrolet Lumina minivan. In both cases, the credit card companies absorbed the financial losses and affected employees were not held responsible for charges billed to them in the scams.

In another gross misuse of personal information, a suspect was convicted after a 4-month investigation by NIH detectives. In that case, a man in his early twenties whose name is being withheld by police, obtained names and pertinent personal data from reading death notices published in the local newspaper. Scamming financial institutions as far away as West Virginia, the man used the information to apply for and receive more than $95,000 in student loans that were disbursed in the name of the deceased individuals. NIH officials were alerted when the wife of a deceased NIH'er contacted them thinking her husband's personnel file was being misused. A $16,000 student loan check had been issued in her husband's name.

"The investigation revealed that the information for the loans did not come from NIH, but was obtained solely from the published death notice," Luke explained. Key details of the fraud were uncovered during the NIH investigation, however, and the suspect was arrested, convicted and eventually sentenced to 10 months in a federal prison, 3 years probation and $50,000 in restitution. Additionally, Luke was able to recover about $45,000 of the lost funds.

Most recently, a fraudulent check crime that was attempted over a 2-day period at the NIH Federal Credit Union ended with the suspects being chased by car and on foot by NIH detectives, who eventually captured the miscreants in the Metrorail tunnel on campus. In that case, a male suspect deposited two checks totaling $4,000 into an NIH credit union account. The checks promptly were discovered to be stolen and NIH detectives were notified. When the suspect returned to withdraw funds from the account, a credit union teller told him the cash payment would be delayed and called Luke and Det. Larry Brown. The suspect and an accomplice returned to the credit union the next day, where the detectives were waiting, and after a dramatic car chase from Bldg. 13 to the intersection of Center Dr. and Rockville Pk. (where the suspects crashed their vehicle) and into the Medical Center Metro tunnel on foot, both suspects were apprehended. The case went to court Oct. 23; the suspect pleaded guilty to theft and will be sentenced in February.

"In general there is a criminal element that targets employees who are in jobs that handle pay slips and other personal information, simply due to the nature of their work," concluded Capt. Will Liston of NIH's Division of Public Safety. "NIH employees should be made aware of this and they should be reminded to keep on their guard."

Due in large part to these investigations, NIH has taken steps to safeguard personal data of employees better. For example, Social Security numbers and home addresses no longer appear on pay slips or grant awards, and employees, grantees and those requesting NIH funding have been advised to be cautious when filling in unnecessary information on requests for leave (form 71), grant applications and other forms. In addition, Social Security numbers on current grant applications are being deleted before they are circulated to reviewers.

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