Identity Theft

Man Arrested for Allegedly Stealing 34 Veterans’ Identities

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A Florida man was arrested Aug. 20 for allegedly stealing the Social Security numbers of 34 veterans who were treated at the James A. Haley VA Medical Center in Tampa, the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Willie Streater, 24, worked for Secure Waste Disposal, an Orlando company the medical center used to shred files containing personally identifying information. Instead of fulfilling his role in the identity-theft-prevention process, Streater is accused of using information on those documents to file fraudulent tax returns and steal $1.1 million.

Streater faces five counts of the wrongful disclosure of health information, two counts of credit card fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft. He is being held on $35,000 bail and could potentially spend years in prison if convicted.

The hospital recently dealt with a similar issue: Earlier this year, a former Haley clerk admitted to stealing 59 patients’ Social Security numbers and was sentenced to 6 years in federal prison. Calls from Credit.com requesting comment from the medical center and Secure Waste Disposal were not immediately returned.

Previously, Streater has been charged with the sale and possession of cocaine, grand theft and burglary, the Times reports. According to Secure Waste Disposal’s website, “personnel, trucks, and facilities are audited, monitored, and secured at all times,” but no other information was immediately available about the company’s vetting process for employees who handle sensitive documents.

While many consumers trust that their personal information is secured by organizations that request and use it, there is no guarantee of protection from identity theft. As a constant stream of data breaches shows, consumers must expect their information to be exposed at some point, and the best defense against identity theft is often the potential victim.

Checking your credit reports (you can do that for free once a year), credit scores, financial statements and online accounts for signs of suspicious activity will help you spot and stop fraud, with the hope you catch things early enough to prevent extensive damage. Use monitoring tools as often as you can. You can see two of you free credit scores for free with updates every 30 days on Credit.com, so if you notice a sudden change in your score, you know to investigate potential fraud.

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