A Trenton, New Jersey man admitted in federal court this week that he obtained the Social Security numbers of U.S. military officials over the Internet and used them to obtain phony credit cards.
The Social Security numbers were originally posted by the U.S. government in the online version of the Congressional Record, and were republished on a Web site maintained by Pennsylvania privacy advocate Glen Roberts.
Roberts published the numbers on his Web site to prove how easy it is to get private information from public sources. He has since taken down the data.
Everyday Fraud Using the Net
Lamar Christian — who has only a fifth grade education — pled guilty in U.S. District Court to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud using Social Security numbers that were originally published on the U.S. government’s Thomas Web site. Nevison Stevens, also of Trenton, New Jersey, pled guilty in a related case earlier this year. The men face up to four years in prison.
According to federal prosecutors, Christian used the names and Social Security numbers of military officials — including former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman John Shalikashvili — to obtain over 300 fake credit card accounts.
Christian used the accounts to make online purchases of over $160,000 (US$) worth of goods, mostly computers and jewelry. After purchasing the goods, Christian resold them to Stevens.
After several military officers complained to military investigators that someone had credit cards in their names, the investigators tracked down Stevens through an online purchase order. Stevens was arrested in October 1999, when he took delivery of a computer that he had ordered with one of the phony cards. Investigators were then able to track down Christian.
Government Sites Fixed, But Not Corrected
The GPO no longer publishes the Social Security numbers of newly promoted military members on any of its Web sites.
However, Social Security numbers are still available online from the Congressional Record as originally published in 1996 and earlier. The E-Commerce Times searched the Congressional Record and found Social Security numbers for numerous military members ranked lieutenant colonel and higher from that time frame.
Andrew Sherman, a spokesman for the Government Printing Office (GPO), which publishes the Congressional Record, told the E-Commerce Times that the GPO received a letter from the Senate Secretary in November 1998 directing the GPO to replace the first five digits of Social Security numbers with zeros on the Thomas Web site.
According to Sherman, the GPO made the fix on the Thomas Web site. However, the GPO failed to make similar corrections on documents posted at GPO Access.
According to Sherman, the GPO is “going to get on that and make the corrections as soon as possible.” He has no time frame for making the corrections, but he pointed out that even after the numbers are taken off the Web, there are still hard copies of the Congressional Record available at over a thousand libraries around the country.
Social Security Numbers Available from SEC
Military officers are not the only people whose Social Security numbers are readily available online, courtesy of the U.S. government.
A few minutes spent searching the Edgar database at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Web site generated the Social Security numbers of numerous U.S. business leaders.