Man Gets Prison Time for Identity
NEW YORK - A computer technician who prosecutors say touched off the largest identity theft in U.S. history
was sentenced to 14 years in prison Tuesday by a judge who said the damage he caused was "almost unimaginable."
Philip A. Cummings, 35, of Cartersville, Ga., a former help-desk worker for a Long Island software company, apologized before U.S. District Judge George B. Daniels imposed the sentence in Manhattan.
The government has
estimated that the identity theft scheme involved tens of thousands of victims and caused losses of between $50 million
and $100 million.
Daniels said the case "emphasized how
easy it is to wreak havoc on people's financial and personal lives."
He said the impact in "dollars and the
number of individuals and the personal suffering and consequences for individual victims is almost unimaginable."
In September, Cummings pleaded guilty
to conspiracy, wire fraud and fraud in connection with identification documents.
Victim Barbara Cusumano of Port Washington, N.Y., told the judge that identity theft "really does amount to a great
deal of loss by a lot of people in a lot of states."
Outside court, Cusumano, 56, said it
was difficult to get the attention of law enforcement authorities when she reported $1,500 had been illegally charged to her
credit card by someone in Florida who bought her personal information from Cummings.
Cusumano, who once headed an airline
anti-fraud unit, said she "went crazy writing everybody" to draw attention to the loss because she feared the money might
fall into the hands of drug dealers, criminals or even terrorists.
She said local police in Florida told her they would not investigate her case because the loss did not involve more than
"One of the messages this sends is that
if you stay under the threshold, you can do what you want," Cusumano said.
Eventually, a financial institution
and the FBI contacted her when they realized her loss was part of a much larger case.
The scheme unfolded while Cummings worked
from mid-1999 through August 2000 as a help-desk worker at Teledata Communications Inc., a Long Island computer software company
that provides banks with computerized access to credit information databases.
The government said Cummings agreed
to sell to an unidentified coconspirator the passwords and codes for downloading consumer credit reports. Tens of thousands
of credit reports were stolen using passwords from companies, prosecutors said.
According to court documents, Cummings
was paid roughly $30 for each stolen report. The information was passed on to at least 20 individuals who then set out to
make money from the information, feeding a network of criminals nationwide.
At sentencing, Cummings cried when a
childhood friend, Patrick Fagan, told the judge he was "not an evil person."
"I'm very, very sorry for my conduct,"
Cummings told the court.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Marcus A. Asner
told the judge that many of the victims were reimbursed by credit card companies and financial institutions but still feel
Cusumano said she is hesitant to give
out too much personal information. "We get paranoid," she said, speaking of those who suffer identity theft.
Cummings, who maintains he needs a heart
transplant, asked for leniency because of his health problems. Daniels declined, saying the crime was too serious.
The defendant, who is free on bail,
must report to prison on March 9. Restitution will be ordered at a later date.
ON THE NET
FTC identity theft site: http://www.consumer.gov/idtheft
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse: http://www.privacyrights.org