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Secret Service Foils Credit Scam Aimed at Military Officers

By Michael Norris
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 16, 1999 – The United States Secret Service is in the midst of an investigation of credit card fraud perpetrated against a select group of officers in the U.S. military.

In November, the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command contacted the U.S. Secret Service in Wilmington, Del., about the misuse of personal identity information that individuals had posted on the World Wide Web. The perpetrators took information culled from the Congressional Record -- a publication chronicling the legislative deliberations of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate -- which included the names and social security numbers of officers who were up for promotion.

Senate approval is required for the promotion of major and above, and the names and social security numbers of eligible officers were submitted to the Armed Services Committee, which sanctions the promotions. The information was then posted on a Web site where others could take advantage of the data to apply for unauthorized credit under victims' names. The Pentagon no longer forwards social security numbers to Congress.

On Dec. 13, Secret Service agents from field offices in and Newark, N.J. and Philadelphia, in conjunction with the Trenton Police Department, arrested Lamar Christian and Nevison Stevens in Trenton, N.J. In addition, Ida Johnson- Christian, Lamar's sister, was arrested in Bristol, Pa., with the assistance of local authorities.

A Secret Service press release identified over 700 unauthorized accounts that were available for fraudulent e- commerce purchases. According to Special Agent in Charge Peter A. Cavicchia II, of the Secret Service's Philadelphia Field Office, this particular ring had used 113 of these accounts and precipitated $37,000 in actual losses. Potential losses have been estimated at $1.4 million had the accounts had been drained to their credit limit. "Many times cash advances will [continually] be taken up to an account's limit," he said.

The arrested subjects are being charged with conspiracy to commit bank fraud in violation of Title 18 of the United States Criminal Code, Section 371. The defendants were arraigned Dec. 14. The maximum penalty for violation of this statute is 30 years imprisonment and a fine of not more than $1 million. District attorneys in Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania will prosecute the case.

More arrests may be imminent. Cavicchia said the case is ongoing and that the Secret Service is developing other suspects.

While CID, the Navy's Criminal Investigative Services and the Air Force Office of Special Investigations were involved in the case, the Secret Service served as the lead agency because of their resources and expertise, Cavicchia said. "The Secret Service is probably the most experienced of the agencies in computer crime in the federal government," he said, "and counterfeit identification is the exclusive jurisdiction of the [agency]."

(Editors note: Michael Norris is a staff writer for the Pentagram newspaper at Fort Myer, Va.)

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