Houston station boosts security as DJ faces identity theft charge

By Mike Janssen

A volunteer DJ has been charged with stealing donors’ credit card information from a Houston radio station and using it to make personal purchases.

Michael Whitfield was arrested in December after police found him in possession of credit card information taken from more than 300 donors to KTSU, a jazz station licensed to Texas Southern University in Houston. He is being held on $200,000 bond.

Police began their investigation in July 2012 after a KTSU donor reported unauthorized charges on their credit card, and they traced them to an IP address to Whitfield’s apartment. Investigators have confirmed 25 cases of theft so far, according to Donna Logan, an assistant district attorney for Harris County, Texas.

Whitfield used the donor information to buy gift cards and electronics, and to make “quite a few purchases” from Bed Bath & Beyond, Logan said.

Logan’s office will seek an indictment after police determine whether Whitfield stole from additional donors. His arraignment is scheduled for Feb. 26.

Whitfield, who hosted a KTSU jazz show, has a criminal record of fraud. In 1997 he was convicted of credit/debit card abuse and given probation. Two years later he was convicted again on the same charge and sentenced to a year in jail.

This time, Whitfield faces a minimum of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Texas Southern University and KTSU apologized for the breach in a Jan. 11 letter sent to more than 2,700 donors. “We are currently working with our police department, legal counsel and other law enforcement officials to ensure that this matter is thoroughly investigated, resolved and does not reoccur,” wrote James Ward, dean of communications at TSU. “We have already taken measures to ensure the security of KTSU donor records, including the transfer of these records to a more secure site to encrypt donor information.”

The school asked donors to review their credit card activity and report any irregularities to investigators. It also put George Thomas, KTSU’s g.m., on administrative leave Jan. 18 pending the outcome of the investigation. KTSU host James Lancaster has been appointed acting g.m.

KTSU isn’t the first public broadcaster to deal with identity theft. In 2004 a temporary employee hired to enter pledge data at UNC-TV in North Carolina made off with credit card information. In response, the network stopped allowing temps to handle such financial data.

And the year before, an employee of New York’s WNYC-FM stole financial data from the station and sold it to an identify theft ring. WNYC hired security experts to review its procedures. It upgraded its security cameras and restricted access to some areas of its offices.

This article was first published in Current, Jan. 28, 2013.
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