KTSU volunteer stole personal info from hundreds of donors, investigators say

By Andrew Lapin

This item has been updated and reposted with additional information.

A former volunteer at Houston’s jazz format NPR affiliate KTSU has been jailed for allegedly stealing credit card information from listener pledge sheets and using the information to buy electronics and gift cards, which he would then sell for cash.

Michael Whitfield, whom the Houston Chronicle reports has a history of financial crimes, was charged Jan. 9 with the fraudulent use and possession of identifying information for more than 50 people, a third-degree felony. Investigators say there are more than 20 confirmed cases but there could be as many as 300 potential victims.

Texas Southern University, which owns KTSU, released a statement Jan. 9 carried by the local Fox TV affiliate apologizing for the compromised donor information and announcing that station management has moved information to a more secure site. Whitfield was not a university employee.

This is not the first instance of pubmedia donor information being targeted for theft. In 2003, an employee at New York’s WNYC served jail time for stealing paper records of check information belonging to 195 station donors and selling the information to an identity theft ring. WNYC management told Current at the time that no station can be completely secure from people determined to steal information. And in 2004, a temporary employee at North Carolina’s UNC-TV was charged with stealing and using credit card information of more than 60 donors to pay for plane tickets and hotel rooms.

  • jtjohnson

    Any ideas about how to structure the accounting system processes to have checkpoints that would catch this sort of thing?

    • http://www.facebook.com/thatmikejanssen Mike Janssen

      We’re working on a more in-depth article on this and will definitely be looking into that.

    • http://www.facebook.com/thatmikejanssen Mike Janssen

      We’ve posted an updated version of this article: http://www.current.org/2013/01/houston-station-boosts-security-as-dj-faces-identity-theft-charge/

      But unfortunately we weren’t able to learn much about how to prevent such incidents. By deadline we hadn’t heard back from an expert whom we emailed. If we learn more, we’ll let you know.

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