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Biggest Identity Thief Ever Gets Put Away 293

Posted by timothy
from the no-that-would-be-the-government dept.
Anonymous Brave Guy writes "Apparently computer helpdesk employee Philip Cummings had more than just a day job: he's just gone down for 14 years in the biggest identity theft case ever. Lots of fascinating nuggets of information in that story: apparently fake ID goes for as little as $60, and the total stolen over just a couple of years was somewhere in the $50m-100m range."
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Biggest Identity Thief Ever Gets Put Away

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  • by Lindsay Lohan (847467) on Tuesday January 11, 2005 @08:03PM (#11328567) Homepage Journal
    Philip Cummings, 35... a computer helpdesk employee...
    Losses have been estimated to be between $50m (£38m) and $100m (£76m).
    Cummings, who is still free on bail, must report to prison on 9 March. He is also due to pay compensation to be agreed at a later date.
    Something tells me the 30,000 people he scammed aren't going to see a dime. Since Phil is not allowed to compensate with stolen funds, and he is unlikely to be returning to his lucrative helpdesk job anytime soon, I doubt he'll be able to fork over even $1 per victim.
    • by m3j00 (606453) <meeyou@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Tuesday January 11, 2005 @08:08PM (#11328637)
      Something tells me the 30,000 people he scammed aren't going to see a dime. Since Phil is not allowed to compensate with stolen funds, and he is unlikely to be returning to his lucrative helpdesk job anytime soon, I doubt he'll be able to fork over even $1 per victim.

      The actual "victim" in these cases is almost always the creditor, not the person whose identity was stolen. It costs the person a bunch of time and energy to correct the problems, but the stolen money comes from the creditors, and they have a budget for fraud.
      • The actual "victim" in these cases is almost always the creditor

        Of course, the creditor makes up that money by charging everyone higher interest rates. Also, it IS possible for identity theft to lead to someone walking into a bank with your info, SSN, valid ID, et cetera and clear out your bank account. But most of the time it's the far easier credit card fraud.

      • In the case of Identity Theft, much more is likely to be taken than just running up bills on an unsecured cretid card, and even that is bad enough. Identity thieves have taken out loans, mortgages, and even given the stolen identity when arrested for crimes.

        For all of these, the victim must mount a REAL defence. This costs enormous amounts of time and money and a lot of aggravation.

        A huge part of the problem is that he banks and other institutions PRESUME that YOU are lying, and that you are responsible
    • by nizo (81281) * on Tuesday January 11, 2005 @08:10PM (#11328668) Homepage Journal
      But how much are all of his body parts worth at auction? Kidneys, corneas, heart, etc. Seems fair to me. Sadly still not enough I am sure.
      • But how much are all of his body parts worth at auction? Kidneys, corneas, heart, etc. Seems fair to me. Sadly still not enough I am sure.

        Writing this and being modded insightful +3...and they call the moslems barbaric.


    • Sure write it off. Or go after Teledata Communications the guy's employer. They should have some liability in this. 30,000 people makes for one powerful class action.

    • As this is a criminal case, the Feds may be able to recover whatever they can of the stolen funds and return it to the victims. That's assuming, of course, that they can find it.
  • Sorry (Score:4, Funny)

    by savagedome (742194) on Tuesday January 11, 2005 @08:03PM (#11328572)
    I absolutely did not see this Cumming.
  • That should be good (Score:5, Informative)

    by albn (835144) on Tuesday January 11, 2005 @08:04PM (#11328582) Journal
    People like this should be put away for a long time for ruining one's credit rating and making their lives a living hell. Restitution will be good too, but how much can you make in the can? not much.

    Good riddance.
    • by Thunderstruck (210399) on Tuesday January 11, 2005 @08:12PM (#11328685)
      While I agree, having been a victim of identity theft (only once that I know of) Perhaps part of the problem is credit ratings themselves.

      There are other ways for a lender or landlord to learn whether a person is a risk. Most people have a reputation in their community that one need only ask to learn. Most credible people can provide credible references. The current addiction to putting everyone's number in a New Jersey database does more harm than good, especially when folks like Cummings come along.

      • No way (Score:3, Insightful)

        by siskbc (598067)
        There are other ways for a lender or landlord to learn whether a person is a risk. Most people have a reputation in their community that one need only ask to learn. Most credible people can provide credible references. The current addiction to putting everyone's number in a New Jersey database does more harm than good, especially when folks like Cummings come along.

        Like hell. First, that would be as useful as the references on a job application - no one pays attention to those, because if you can't get 3

        • France for example....

          And their system is working fine.

          As long as you have a paycheck or a parent with a paycheck that can back you up you can usually rent an appartement.

          Also French people use credit a lot less tahn American, and I guess thats better for everybody.

          • Other countries don't have a credit report system...France for example...[a]nd their system is working fine.


            I've heard this about France before, that they don't have a US-style credit report system; What are mortgage rates like there, compared to the US?
        • I live in Dickinson, North Dakota. After 6 months I know quite a few people in this town. Some of them are related to law school classmates of mine. Some have done business with my former bank. Finding references that both sides can accept is not hard.

          Maybe instead of hiding in your house or apartment you got out and met your neighbors? Maybe if instead of moving to a whole new state every time someone offered you another perk you put down some roots and started contributing to your own home town, you
          • Re:No way (Score:5, Interesting)

            by lubricated (49106) <michalp@gmCHICAGOail.com minus city> on Tuesday January 11, 2005 @10:03PM (#11329971)
            > I live in Dickinson, North Dakota.

            population 16,000 in the middle of a state that's in the middle of nowhere.

            And thus you know everything there is to know about meeting people in New York City.
          • I, too, am from North Dakota (Minot to be specific). The parent is right. You'd be surprised how effective getting out and meeting people can be when it comes to references. You'll build up a reputation for yourself in the town you live in (which, atleast around here, is invaluable for taking a loan out a local bank). A lot of banks in my hometown won't do business with you if you are new to the area. Having atleast some reputation in your community, even if its just in the neighborhood, can be invaluable.


            • Having atleast some reputation in your community, even if its just in the neighborhood, can be invaluable.

              Great. I'm going to have to check my behavior for decades in order to get a home loan. Can't have a funny haircut. Can't put that John Kerry bumper sticker on my car. Can't rally for the reform of marijuana criminalization. It could jeopardize my credit rating, which is dependent on everyone in my conservative small town liking me. Heaven help me if I'm gay and/or black.

              I'm not saying all white pe
        • Overall, this process of trying to holistically determine credit worthiness without a centralized system would be slow as hell and obscenely expensive, if for no other reason than it would be so ineffective that banks would have to charge higher rates to account for their inability to determine credit worthiness. I don't like credit fraud either, but let's not toss the baby with the bathwater here.

          But would you really be tossing the baby with the bathwater? Banking functioned very well for eons before cent

          • Yes, it was incredibly inefficient relative today, and you had to be fairly wealthy to actually back. They expected you to show up with collateral, or know someone who had collateral. There's a reason that Columbus had to visit several monarchs before he could get funding to buy supplies to go on a little trip in 1492.

            Back in the day, banking was an "old boys club". That is to say, you had to know somebody somehow some way personally to do banking (or convince them you have some crazy idea that might w

        • Overall, this process of trying to holistically determine credit worthiness without a centralized system would be slow as hell and obscenely expensive

          I used to feel that this is the main defense for the centralized credit system, and now I've put it into the disadvantage pile.

          I certainly know that there are responsible individuals who profit from instant credit...however, the vast majority of americans have screwed the pooch raw...to the point that we have a *negative* savings rate.

          Though I can't be sur
      • Most credible people can provide credible references.

        And most dishonest people can find someone they can pay $100 or so to be their "credible reference." In fact, if there were no credit bureaus, you could probably make a decent living selling your services as a "reference."
    • People like this should be put away for a long time for ruining one's credit rating...

      I guess there are advantages to having a horrible credit rating after all!

      • Yes, my credit does suck, and cannot get any worse than it already is. The thing is, it might be a shocker for those who may have filed chapter 7 bankruptcy before the seven years are up and get a credit card bill for $20,000.

        I feel really bad for victims of identity theft, and these days of phishing, dumpster diving and the Internet for everyday users it is getting easier and easier to rip people off. It's sad and frustrating.

        I also have to agree the cost of unraveling the mess of trying to prove it was
    • You know, that wouldn't be such an issue if the credit reporting bureaus weren't incompetent arrogant dipshits when it comes to dealing with things like this.
      Harsh? Maybe, but I don't think it is overly so.

      Have you ever wondered why there are dozens of credit bureaus (3 major ones, I know) and why folks who are thinking of giving you a loan will check the 3 major ones and maybe some of the minor ones?
      It's because the data that each one has is so highly suspect that it is essentially useless.

      Credit bureaus
      • by sjames (1099)

        I'll bet that if the credit agencies were held legally responsable for the hearsay they recklessly spout about people they would do a much better job verifying the accuracy of their information. If you or I published a report based on hearsay that did significant damage to someone's reputation, we would end up in court. If we couldn't show darned good reasons why we believed the information we published, we would end up being ordered to pay restitution.

        Financial institutions aren't much better. Identity t

      • The card was issued 8 years before I was born.

        That's no excuse, take some responsibility for your actions! Is it our fault that you can't spend money responsibly? Jesus, some people's children...

        [/sarcasm]
    • Sure, this guy deserves to be punished, as he will be. But a share of the blame belongs to the people at Ford Motor Credit and Teledata, whose sloppy security enabled this crime. Nothing's been about any penalties for them, and I'm guessing there won't be any.
      • Sure, this guy deserves to be punished, as he will be. But a share of the blame belongs to the people at Ford Motor Credit and Teledata, whose sloppy security enabled this crime. Nothing's been about any penalties for them, and I'm guessing there won't be any.

        You never know. If I were going to file a civil claim I'd wait until the criminal case was disposed. Just wait...
        • Good point. Except that nowadays, paying a civil claim doesn't mean admitting you fucked up. It just means that it was cheaper to pay the claim than the lawyers.
    • I know I'm going to get hit hard for this, but it is my sincere belief that he did the right thing. Not morally, and he probably didn't do it with any sort of intention other than outright theft.

      But my big fear is that as we move towards a more moneyless society, things like Credit Rating quickly become more important than any other factor. I personally hate the concept of Credit and love to see it take a hit.

      How about doing things the old fashioned way, like going ahead and paying for things with Mone
  • Curious... (Score:5, Funny)

    by MarkRose (820682) on Tuesday January 11, 2005 @08:05PM (#11328600) Homepage
    What I want to know is, when they caught the guy, did they have a positive ID?
  • Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by grahamsz (150076) on Tuesday January 11, 2005 @08:07PM (#11328629) Homepage Journal
    Why does a help desk operator have access to my credit report?

    Surely you can design a system where very few humans ever have contact with all of a persons information.

    I've dealt with on UK bank where when you wanted to perform certain transactions using telephone banking you were passed to a second tier operator and instructed not to give them your name.

    Presumably the system was set up such that no one person had enough confidential information on a single customer.

    The US really needs far stricter controls on SSNs - it's insane how often i need my ssn for day to day transactions.
    • Re:Why? (Score:3, Informative)

      by DoctorMO (720244)
      The UK has Data Protection laws now which mean that if employees have access to personal information they have to have a damn good reason, and if they don't the company is liable.
    • The Social Security number is being used for things it was not intended to be used for.
      • Re:Why? (Score:3, Informative)

        by me at werk (836328)
        Social Security numbers [wikipedia.org] were originally just a Tax ID, people wouldn't get them until age 16 or so (this was changed, according to wikipedia, in the 1980s when SSN's were required to list "dependants). It's sad, it was (as i'm told, I did not experience this) stated that it would "never be used as a national id" or something to that effect, and it has.

        At least it's not to the same extent (i think) that it is in the UK [theregister.co.uk]. But that's not to say it won't be.
        • Re:Why? (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Papparazzi (843358)
          >> "never be used as a national id" or something to that effect, and it has.
          It is now used as a drivers licence # in many states, if you don't specificly request that the Dept. of Revenue not use it. This means that evey time you buy a bottle of wine, or cash a check, the cashier can ask to see it, or else you don't get what you are buying.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      When I worked for a broker, I had access to client SSNs, clearing house info for EFT, the whole nine yards. We were monitored, but that only went so far. Our tech support guys had all the same info.

      Oh, we passed all the industry regulation background searches, etc. In fact, I saw a number of people kicked out of my training class when the searches uncovered bounced checks, forgeries, and other financial crimes. But that's the thing - many people who do that stuff do keep trying to get jobs in the industry.
    • Re:Why? (Score:3, Interesting)

      You're worried about a help desk worker? That grumpy guy behind the counter at the video store (going off of Hollywood video) has your address, phone, birthdate, names of family members (and b-dates), and SSN (and a simple print screen will print all that data off). This is at the lowest level. Higher up, you get credit card numbers cause we store those. Oh and you *can't* really delete an account, when we "delete" an account, we simply set it to do not rent to. All the data's there. And I'm not quite su
  • by mikeophile (647318) on Tuesday January 11, 2005 @08:09PM (#11328655)
    Cummings, who is still free on bail, must report to prison on 9 March.

    It's not like the guy could change his identity or anything.
  • by museumpeace (735109) on Tuesday January 11, 2005 @08:10PM (#11328666) Journal
    this s**tbag's employer, Teledata Communications, was heavily fined...they must have had hundreds of complaints over the course of the thievery and never turned enough scrutiny on their own orgnaization to see the problem until way too late. I will be looking at which credit card issuers, banks, etc use Teledata Communications services and seeing if I can avoid doing business there.

    but who says their competition is any safer?
  • by bennomatic (691188) on Tuesday January 11, 2005 @08:12PM (#11328687) Homepage
    ...that these folks just don't learn. People who do this get caught because they keep going and going and going. Once you have a few million, you don't need to scam anyone any more! Just invest and retire! You will eventually mess up, and you WILL get caught!!

    Of course, this sort of idiotic greed is what got them to start doing these bad things in the first place. I can't imagine trying to steal identities no matter how much the profit, myself.

  • by Anita Coney (648748) on Tuesday January 11, 2005 @08:15PM (#11328733) Homepage
    ... but the biggest ID theif ever caught.

  • ...to prison on 9 March.

    Are you kidding me? 14 years in Jail or move to Ecuador, hmmmmm?
  • Why is it? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by modemboy (233342)
    Seems like all the huge criminal acts these days are inside jobs. Companies from grocery stores to office buildings are spying on their employees for this exact reason.
  • Fake ID (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MrRuslan (767128) on Tuesday January 11, 2005 @08:18PM (#11328767)
    Here in NYC anyone can obtain a fake ID for under $50 bucks and it looks legit enogh to pass...And it's legal too because it has a disclamer in he back. I used to use one to get into clubs but i also used it (with my real info on it) to goto the bank because i always loose my wallet and i just get one for $30 bucks and i never had a problem with it...People who deal with money should be educated on whats real and whats not.
    • it's about stealing people's identities (by obtaining as much information about them) and setting up loans etc. in their name. The criminals then don't repay, the loan company comes knocking on the victims door and they then have to spend time and money reinstating their good name and credit rating.

      Identity theifs really are the lowest of the low as far as "white collar" crime goes, I hope this guy rots in a stinking cell for as long as possible.
    • Re:Fake ID (Score:3, Interesting)

      by coyote-san (38515)
      I doubt a disclaimer on the back would get you off the hook if the front "looked legit enough to pass." If you used it as a fake id, it's a fake id and you could find yourself in a shitload of trouble.

      Consider four data points. First, would it be legal if you deposited a check with some nice hefty figure on the front, but a "not a valid check do not accept" notice on the back? Or do you think you'll get a hefty fine from your bank (at best)? People have tried this, it's not a theoretical question.

      Seco
  • What!?!?!? (Score:5, Funny)

    by mr_resident (222932) on Tuesday January 11, 2005 @08:23PM (#11328833)
    HE's not Philip Cummings!

    I AM!!!
  • To add insult to injury, Mr. Cummings has now learned that everything he has purchased with his stolen ID's has been confiscated, including his new robot... his new girl robot. Heh heh heh...
  • by 44BSD (701309) on Tuesday January 11, 2005 @09:17PM (#11329476)
    32,000 staff and student ID records, including photographs and SSN's have been exposed [usatoday.com] to {h|cr}ackers, possibly for as long as two months. GMU is home to The Center for Secure Information Systems [gmu.edu]. In other news, the cobbler's children are going barefoot...
  • Does the UK still file credit reports by physical address? This bit quite a few people when they moved into an address, and the previous resident racked a bunch of bad debts. The new residents suddenly found they were being denied credit based on the history of the address.
  • by r6144 (544027) <r6k@nospam.sohu.com> on Tuesday January 11, 2005 @09:33PM (#11329661) Homepage Journal
    I agree with many slashdotters that copyright infringement is different from theft, so why do you call this "theft"? After all, the victim did not lose his identity, and if you consider the money as stolen (which may be true, but it is still somewhat different IMHO), it isn't the identity that got stolen...

    I'm not condoning the behavior, I just don't like the wording.

  • What a moron (Score:3, Insightful)

    by erroneus (253617) on Tuesday January 11, 2005 @09:44PM (#11329790) Homepage
    You know, I feel that crime is bad and all... I wouldn't risk my future on it -- I know first-hand how damaging a felony can ruin a person's life as I've seen it. It's frightening really. Losing all those rights... even the ones you think you don't need. That said, it tweaks me more to see how stupid the average criminal really is. Take this guy for example.

    Using information collected from your work place is a REALLY stupid thing to do. When masses of ID theft cases are compiled, it seems pretty obvious that these collections will have things in common such as places where the stolen information was used. It stands to reason that there would be one or two places where a collection will have information in common such as where they shopped. This fact brings the people responsible one big step closer to being caught. From there it's simply a matter of detective work to narrow the selection of people down to a few or even one.

    When a crime is repeated over and over and over again, it simply increases the likelihood of being caught. I read somewhere here on Slashdot a bit of criminal advice that just makes too much sense. If you are going to commit a crime, make sure it has two criteria met: (1) It's big enough that it is worth the risks involved and (2) that you never EVER do it again.

    Criminals get caught because they do it and keep doing it. They also don't seem to plan to get away with it. Stupid stupid stupid....

    • What I've been told by more than one police officer goes something like:

      "If they'd only break one law at a time, our job would be a lot harder."
  • by JRHelgeson (576325) on Tuesday January 11, 2005 @10:44PM (#11330330) Homepage Journal
    The USA uses the Social Security Number to apply for credit. How do citizens of other countries apply for credit? What unique identifying number do they use to identify themselves? Do they have companies similar to Experian, TransUnion or Equifax?
  • You notice that when the Americans cover the story, they conveniently leave out the names of the companies involved?

    ---

    NO ORDINARY CASE OF IDENTITY THEFT
    The Largest in U.S. History

    10/18/04

    Uncovering Identity Theft graphicIt began with a crooked "insider" who had access to a nearly unending supply of personal consumer information.

    It ended up the largest case of identity theft ever investigated and prosecuted in the U.S.--with 30,000 victims across the U.S. and Canada and millions of dollars in losses.

    I
  • Fifty to 100 million? Why the hell was he a help desk worker? Why wasn't he out blowing money on yachts and jets and basketball teams?

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