Identity Theft Strikes Grad Students

Within two weeks of the UC Irvine Police Department’s March 20 crime alert on identity theft, 36 new victims reported fraudulent income tax returns filed using their names and social security numbers. A total of 93 victims, all UCI graduate and medical students enrolled in the 2006-07 academic year, were notified by the IRS that their tax returns for 2007 had already been filed.
“The refund has been going somewhere else,” explained UCI Chief of Police Paul Henisey. “The money hasn’t been taken from the students … but the refunds were processed.”
According to Henisey, some graduate and medical students had approximately $1,100 to $3,100 in fraudulent refunds processed by the IRS.
Currently, the IRS, UCI Network and Academic Computing Services (NACS), Administrative Computing Services (AdCom) and UCIPD are working together to investigate these crimes. Although Henisey stated that graduate students are receiving their refunds from the IRS, little else is known about the government agency’s involvement in the case.
“We don’t have much information from the IRS. … We couldn’t release the information even if we did,” Henisey said.
None of the departments found that the school’s computers have been compromised.
“We have not been able to determine a breach in the [school’s] systems to date,” Henisey said. Even with 15 departments on campus working together to investigate this matter, Henisey said they had “not determined if there was a breach that occurred on campus.”
University Communications Assistant Vice Chancellor Susan Menning confirmed Henisey’s statement. She also expressed that the school contacted all authorities necessary for this investigation.
The administration chose to contact departments rather than specific individuals, such as identity theft leading expert Henry Pontell, a UCI professor of criminology, law and society. Regardless of his lack of involvement in the investigation, Pontell stressed the severity of identity theft.
“There’s no silver bullet. You can’t prevent [identity theft], but you can set up a system. You can never rest assured,” Pontell said. “As soon as you’re complacent that your system is the best, that’s when you’ll get hurt the most because it presents the most dangerous situation.”
According to Pontell, author of several articles on identity theft and writer of the new book, “Identity Theft” (2009), the university needs to establish tighter security and take preventative measures.
Charges for the crime would include identity theft to fraud, to mail fraud, with each case treated as a felony. According to Henisey, this could add up to 100 years worth of state imprisonment.
“Depending on the cases, we don’t know if other schools, businesses or corporations [have been affected],” Henisey said. “Its an issue much more widespread than us.”
UCIPD speculates that the number of occurrences may increase with time. Additionally, police gather that there may be more than one person involved in this particular identity theft. Consequently, as students are still filing their tax forms, identity theft may continue within the next week.
“There may be more [victims] because more people will file their [tax forms] the closer it gets to April 15,” Henisey said.
Despite the increasing incidences of this case, it is not the only time in which private information was released in relation to the UC system. In 2004, 291 applicants to UCLA were contacted by the school, which notified prospective students of a Web site foul-up that consequently released their information via Internet.
If you are a graduate or medical student enrolled at UCI for the 2006-07 academic year, had the Graduate Student Health Insurance Program (GSHIP), filed a tax return and have not received your refund, please contact UCIPD at (949) 824-5223 or e-mail pdadmin@uci.edu. Or contact the IRS directly at 1-800-366-4484 or e-mail
phishing@IRS.gov.