Saturday, November 1, 2008

From combined dispatches

The State Department said Friday it has warned nearly 400 passport applicants of a security breach in its records system that may have left them open to identity theft.

The department has so far notified 383 people - most of them in the D.C. area - that their passport applications containing personal information, including Social Security numbers, may have been illegally accessed and used to open fraudulent credit card accounts, spokesman Sean McCormack said.

More may be notified as an investigation continues, he said, adding that most of those contacted had not been victimized by identity thieves but all were offered free credit monitoring for a year.

The department notified the 383 passport applicants of their potential vulnerability in August and early October while working with police in the District investigating a credit card and identity theft ring.

The Washington Times reported in April that a State Department employee who was not identified in documents filed in U.S. District Court was implicated in a credit-card fraud scheme after 24-year-old Leiutenant Quarles Harris Jr. told federal authorities he obtained “passport information from a co-conspirator who works for the U.S. Department of State.”

The investigation began after police on March 25 pulled over Mr. Harris in Southeast on suspicion that the windows of his vehicle were tinted too darkly.

Upon questioning by agents from the U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Postal Service and State Department, Mr. Harris “admitted he obtained the passport information” from a State Department employee, court documents say.

Mr. Harris also said the fraud ring submitted credit-card applications using the names and “identifying information” of the persons listed on the passport applications, and that a Postal Service employee then would intercept the cards before they were delivered to residences.

Mr. McCormack declined to comment on how the man obtained the applications, but said at least one State Department worker had been reassigned and may face further disciplinary action pending completion of the investigation.

Mr. Harris was fatally shot in Northeast Washington in April. Police at the time said they had no information linking his shooting to his involvement in the passport case.

The breach came to light in March around the same time The Times first reported that three State Department contract employees were being investigated for improperly accessing the passport data of presidential candidates Sens. Barack Obama, John McCain and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Mr. McCormack said the cases are not related.

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