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Temp charged with credit theft at UNC-TV network

Originally published in Current, Aug. 9, 2004
By Mike Janssen

North Carolina’s public TV network has changed its pledge drive practices after falling prey to identity theft.

Two New York women are charged with using credit card information from 60 UNC-TV donors to pay for rental cars, hotel rooms and plane tickets online. New Jersey and Port Authority of New York detectives arrested the women at New York’s LaGuardia Airport July 16 [2004].

Adaeze Okeke, 22, entered pledge data at UNC-TV in Research Triangle Park, N.C., during a fund drive from February to March. Detectives recovered five sheets of donor information upon arresting her. Authorities said her Manhattan neighbor, Syretta Scott, 23, traveled with Okeke and knew the trips were paid for illegally.

The station hired Okeke through OfficeTeam, a temporary employee agency. UNC-TV no longer allows temporary employees hired for pledge drives to handle credit card numbers or other financial information, says Communications Director Steve Volstad. “We are accustomed to placing a certain amount of faith in the background checks that would have occurred before a person got here,” Volstad says. “But we will no longer do that, so we’ll at this point forward rely only on our own employees.”

UNC-TV is contacting donors whose information was stolen, Volstad says. OfficeTeam has promised to compensate donors for their losses.

Affected donors have been sympathetic so far, indicating that they want to support UNC-TV, Volstad says. “[I]f that turns out to be representative of the way most folks feel, we hope we’ll be able to come through this with a minimum of lasting difficulty.”

Scott and Okeke face charges including fraud, grand larceny and identity theft. They return to court Aug. 11. Identity theft is punishable in New York with up to seven years in prison.
New York was home to another case of identity theft in public broadcasting in 2002, when a facilities department employee at WNYC-AM/FM stole 195 records of donors’ check information [earlier story]. He sold them to a major identity theft ring and was later sentenced to 60 days in prison and five years’ probation.

Web page posted Aug. 15, 2004
Current
The newspaper about public TV and radio
in the United States
Current Publishing Committee, Takoma Park, Md.
Copyright 2004

EARLIER ARTICLES

Thief in WNYC case gets jail term; stations still vulnerable to inside jobs, 2003.

OUTSIDE LINKS

The North Carolina story as reported by WRAL-TV.

PBS.org columnist Robert X. Cringely on his (unrelated) brush with identity theft.

FTC tells consumers how to avoid credit-card losses.

 

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