State Worker Charged In Massive Identity Theft Scam

Attorney General Spitzer - joined by the New York State Police Special Investigations Unit, the State Inspector General's Office and the New York State Insurance Fund - today announced the arrest of an employee of the Insurance Fund who has been charged with pilfering personal data from office files and then using the stolen identities to obtain goods and services on credit.

"This case shows how personal data can be misappropriated and used for criminal purposes," Spitzer said. "The result is ruined credit ratings for individuals, significant monetary losses for the defrauded companies and a shameful violation of trust by a public employee."

Valerie Shoffner, 38, of Schenectady, surrendered to New York State Police on Friday and was arraigned in Colonie Town Court before Justice Peter Crummey after a felony complaint was filed with the Court. The complaint charges Shoffner with one count of Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, a class C felony; one count of Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument, a class D felony, and one count of Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree, a class E felony; for her part in an alleged large-scale case of organized identity theft. A class C felony carries a maximum sentence of five to 15 years in state prison.

Authorities stated that Shoffner, while employed in a clerical position at the New York State Insurance Fund offices in Albany, had access to the personal identifying information of thousands of state employees and other citizens who dealt with the Insurance Fund. The complaint alleges that Shoffner secretly misappropriated this information - including names, addresses, telephone and social security numbers of individuals across the state - and then used the information to obtain goods and services from a variety of consumer product companies. According to the complaint, Shoffner used her computer at the Insurance Fund to obtain credit and goods while using the names of other individuals, including fellow Insurance Fund employees.

It is further alleged that Shoffner provided personal data to accomplices who used the information to steal merchandise and services. According to the felony complaint, Shoffner was paid by these accomplices for identities she obtained from state files and provided to them. The complaint also alleges that investigators have identified at least $100,000 worth of goods and services stolen by Shoffner and her associates, including more than $70,000 in computers and related items stolen from Gateway Computer Corporation. The complaint further states that Shoffner and her accomplices obtained approximately 50 computers, numerous cellular telephones and cameras, and items of clothing as part of this scheme.

Investigators executed a search warrant at Shoffner's Schenectady residence on February 15. During that search, authorities recovered records containing personal identity information of thousands of individuals, including individuals affiliated with the New York State Insurance Fund and people affiliated with Shoffner's prior place of employment, the Empire State College in New York City. In addition, during this search, investigators recovered items of property allegedly stolen as a part of this scheme, a forged credit card and paperwork connected to the delivery of stolen items.

State Police Superintendent James W. McMahon said: "Law enforcement must continue to be vigilant to combat the growing threat of identity theft. As technology and the internet continue to make our lives easier, law enforcement must be on guard for those who use this same technology against honest New Yorkers."

State Inspector General Roslynn R. Mauskopf said: "People who provide personal information to state government expect and demand that such information will be maintained securely. The Inspector General's Office is committed to ensuring that confidential information obtained by government is properly protected and that state employees who steal or otherwise misuse that information will be caught and punished."

Kenneth J. Ross, Executive Director of the State Insurance Fund said: "Identity theft is the fastest growing consumer fraud. The State Insurance Fund fully cooperated with the state authorities who led this investigation. We applaud the efforts of the Attorney General and the Inspector General's offices in making this arrest."

The investigation of this identity theft ring is continuing. The charges contained in the felony complaint against Shoffner are merely an accusation and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

Shoffner was dismissed by the Insurance Fund in April.

Identity theft is fast becoming the most prevalent and costly financial crime in the nation. It is estimated that more than 750,000 people have their identity stolen each year, costing consumers and the financial industry billions of dollars. As part of a comprehensive plan to protect New Yorkers' privacy, Attorney General Spitzer has proposed legislation that would establish a new state crime of identity theft, and facilitate law enforcement efforts to combat the problem.

In 1999, Spitzer advanced legislation to establish "identity theft" as a distinct crime in the penal law and clearly provide penalties for not only the thieves, but also for those, such as Shoffner who compile personal data for use by others in committing theft. In addition, Spitzer's proposal would recognize consumers with damaged credit records as the true "victims" of these crimes and entitle them to sue the perpetrators for compensation for the time and effort spent cleaning up their credit files.

The prosecution is being handled by Assistant Attorney General William Comiskey, Deputy Bureau Chief of the Criminal Prosecutions Bureau, under the supervision of Bureau Chief Janet Cohn. The investigation is being conducted by investigators from the Attorney General's Office, the State Police SIU, the State Inspector General's Office, and the United States Postal Service. The Attorney General's office acknowledged the cooperation of the State Insurance Fund, and the cooperation of Albany County District Attorney Paul Clyne, Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney, and the New York State District Attorneys' Association.

EDITOR'S NOTE:

Learn how to prevent identity theft by contacting Attorney General Spitzer's website at:
www.ag.ny.gov/bureaus/consumer-frauds/identity-theft


NOTE TO RADIO NEWSROOMS:

An audio-cut from today's news conference is available by contacting the Attorney General Spitzer's 24-hour news line at (877) 345-3466.


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