A former UnitedHealthCare worker, who stole the personal and financial information of at least 1100 University of California, Irvine students has been arrested in Dallas, Texas.

Michael Tyrone Thomas, of Fort Worth, was arrested at his home and is being held on $300,000 bail. The authorities are alleging Thomas stole the information while working at UnitedHealthCare in December 2007. They are also charging that Thomas used the information to fill out fraudulent tax returns using 163 identities stolen in the caper.

According to the Houston Chronicle, a spokesman for UnitedHealthCare didn’t return their call concerning the arrest on Friday. I went to the UnitedHealthCare site and found nothing mentioned about this case as of this writing.

It appears that the investigation was initiated by the UC Irvine Police after students started complaining about identity theft in March. Specifically, they complained about someone using their information to fill out bogus tax returns. University computer experts took a look at their systems and found no signs of a breach. Subsequently, University Police investigating the case discovered all the students were enrolled in a insurance program administered by UnitedHealthCare.

A press release on the UC Irvine site gave credit to UCI Police Sergeants Tony Frisbee, Shaun Devlin and Corporal Caroline Altamirano for working closely on the case with the Dallas District Attorney’s Office. The release indicates that they expect additional arrests and that the IRS will be investigating the tax fraud implications in the case.

Recently, the National Taxpayer Advocate, issued a report to Congress indicating that tax fraud involving the use of stolen identities has grown 644 percent in the past four years. In a lot of these cases, forged W-2’s are used to claim an earned income credit, which can net the fraudster thousands of dollars per return.

In my post on this story, I mentioned that the IRS has a dedicated page to assist identity theft victims when their information has been used to commit tax fraud. The Houston Chronicle article mentioned that UnitedHealthCare will be offering free credit monitoring and that UCI will be offering loans to the affected students. It also mentioned that UCI Police Chief, Paul Henisey doesn’t think the rest of the names were used because the reports of identity theft dropped off in late June.

Free credit monitoring seems to be the standard offer to victims when a data breach is disclosed, but it doesn’t necessarily reveal all forms of identity theft. Credit bureaus do not track what information is being used to file a tax return and would be worthless in the already known cases. Other examples when credit monitoring might not be the end-all solution to identity theft protection are medical benefit fraud, employment fraud, government benefit fraud, some forms of check fraud and last, but not least, when it is used to commit crimes of other than a financial nature.

If I were one of the affected UC Irvine students, I wouldn’t turn down the free credit monitoring (it does help in a lot of instances), but I would also visit the Identity Theft Resource Center’s Financial Identity Theft – More Complex Cases page to educate myself a little further.

So far as Chief Henisey’s prediction that this case is over — I certainly hope it is — but it wouldn’t be prudent for everyone to let their guard down just yet. Information is bought and sold in a lot of places (including over the Internet) for the purpose of identity theft. There is no way of telling, whether or not, any of this information was passed to someone else for a profit.

Saying that, it’s refreshing to see the culprit caught in this case and the UC Irvine Police Department (along with other University staff) did an excellent job in their investigation. It isn’t very often when one of these cases is traced to the person behind it.

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