No misuse of City Hall data reported yet

July 7, 2006

By Janet Braswell

Officials say they have received no reports that information from computer hard drives stolen from Hattiesburg City Hall last month has been used fraudulently.

A surveillance video camera caught two men inside City Hall before business hours on June 23. They allegedly stole hard drives from 18 computers, apparently stuffing them into back packs visible on the tape.

The hard drives contained the names, addresses and Social Security numbers of city employees and registered voters and banking information for employees paid through direct deposit and water system customers who paid their bills electronically.

City officials encouraged employees and water customers to notify their banks and credit bureaus of the possible theft of their identities, but no fraud reports have been received.

"Nobody's reported any at all," said April Lazenby, manager of the city's information systems division.

But Hattiesburg author Ethan Pope cautions against relaxing too soon.

"I would be shocked if anybody saw anything happen in the next few weeks or months," Pope said. "Anyone who stole these names and Social Security numbers for that purpose will wait until things cool down. Right now, we're on guard; we're cautious. We're on alert. They know that."

Pope's book, "Identity Theft," is the third in The Financial Alert Series by Moody Publishers in Chicago. "Identity Theft" includes 75 recommendations for protecting identities.

"We're just trying to help people understand the issues and how to protect themselves," Pope said.

If the purpose of the City Hall break-in was identity theft, the thieves may not use the information for some time, he said.

"I would expect six months to a year," Pope said.

The FBI is assisting in the investigation, working to enhance the videotape.

"We haven't got any of that back yet," said Detective Lt. Mark Berry of the Hattiesburg Police Department.

Investigators are working daily on the case but haven't made any arrests, he said.

"We're still interviewing people," Berry said.

The break-in shut down the city's computer operations on June 23, but data was backed up off-site and allowed recovery within 48 hours.

"We were actually back up and running the Sunday after the break-in, fully functional by that Sunday," Lazenby said.

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