By Bruce Cadwallader
The Columbus Dispatch
December 20, 2007
At least six central Ohioans are now under investigation by the U.S.
Secret Service for hacking into a government Web site and stealing
Social Security numbers to create false credit accounts.
Worthington detectives turned over evidence to federal authorities after
a state crime lab determined that more than 270 people nationwide might
have been victimized by a security lapse in the Franklin County
Municipal Court Web site.
Police found that someone was randomly feeding Social Security numbers
into Clerk Lori Tyack's site, which contained personal information for
thousands of people charged with misdemeanors, some guilty of only a
speeding ticket. Once a number was hit on, the name, address, age and
other information could be used to obtain credit cards and open bank
The victims are from Ohio, South Carolina, Kentucky, Texas and Wyoming,
said Worthington detective Ted Paxton. Many might not know that their
identities have been stolen.
The case was turned over to the Secret Service because it investigates
misuse of the Internet for identity theft and because the case had
broadened to include so many potential victims, Paxton said.
That would have been a career case for just one of our detectives, so we
asked for help from federal authorities, said Sgt. John Slaughter. The
Secret Service will take the case to the assistant U.S. attorney's
office. We now have six suspects.
A Secret Service spokesman contacted Wednesday said the agency would
have no comment on the investigation.
No one has been arrested yet. Worthington police seized the records and
computers of two people, who implicated others, Slaughter said.
One suspect told detectives how the scam worked. She told them she also
had access to federal tax returns as a former seasonal tax preparer for
an H&R Block office that is now closed.
The investigation began after a 22-year-old Worthington woman reported
unauthorized purchases on her credit cards. Police found that
merchandise was sent to an address other than hers. When they went to
that address, they found receipts and banking information in the names
of 72 people, and a laptop that included 200 more names.
Paxton said he has identified more than $40,000 in illegal purchases of
clothing, shoes, phones and electronics.
The thieves were using a laptop stolen from Wyoming, but they only had
it for a couple weeks, Paxton said. You can actually see where they went
from (Tyack's) Web site to Equifax (a credit bureau) and then on to
credit-card companies and banks.
The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation did a
forensic evaluation of computer files and uncovered the names of
potential victims. Worthington police didn't have the officers to locate
them all, Slaughter said.
Tyack said she was aware of the federal investigation but not involved
in it. In July, she limited the information available on the Web site.
The Municipal Court site has permitted public searches of court records
since 2001 and generates more than 16,000 hits per day, Tyack said.
Officials said they will try to locate anyone affected by the thefts,
but individuals can also take steps to protect their own credit by
verifying information on free credit reports and keeping constant
vigilance over their accounts.
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