Belhaven College data stolen

August 2, 2006

By Jimmie E. Gates and Marti Covington

A laptop computer stolen last month from a Belhaven College employee contained names and Social Security numbers of college employees, leaving them vulnerable to identity theft.

Belhaven College President Roger Parrott confirmed Tuesday the stolen computer contained some personal information on employees. But Parrott said he didn't know how many of the private school's roughly 300 employees' personal information was compromised by the theft.

Parrott notified faculty and staff of the situation in a memo July 25.

"The computer of the auditor did have several sophisticated levels of security on it, so we are hopeful the thief won't be able to open it and will just toss it out," Parrott said in the memo obtained by The Clarion-Ledger.

"However, we all need to be aware of anything that looks suspicious in your credit rating, and to be extra cautious of someone calling and claiming to have your Social Security number and trying to get more information from you."

Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in America. Last year, more than 9.9 million Americans were victims of identity theft at roughly $5 billion, according to the U.S. Postal Service.

Earlier this year, 26.5 million veterans' Social Security numbers and addresses were jeopardized when a laptop was stolen from a Veterans Affairs employee.

In June, someone burglarized City Hall in Hattiesburg, compromising 23,000 city employees' and residents' personal data. There have been no arrests in the case.

Hattiesburg officials urged residents to open new bank accounts as a precaution.

In the Belhaven case, Parrott said he sent the memo only as a precaution.

"No one has been impacted (by identity theft)," Parrott said. "It's better to be safe than sorry."

William Penn, a Belhaven business and economics professor, doubts the thief was after Social Security numbers and bank account information.

"We write our Social Security numbers down every day for all sorts of reasons," Penn said. "It would be easy to find those."

But Yusufu Jinkiri, assistant professor of business administration, said he will check with one of the credit reporting agencies.

"I'm going to take reasonable precautions. I felt a sense of concern when I realized the nature of the information," Jinkiri said. "But there's not really anything anyone can do about it."

The robbery at Belhaven happened about 6 p.m. July 19, when a school employee was walking to his car after work. A man approached him from behind. The man took the employee's wallet and laptop computer then fled. As of late Tuesday, no arrest had been made.

Alfred Chestnut, chairman of the biology department, said he was a victim of an identity scam five years ago that cost him hundreds of dollars and thousands of hours. It's unlikely that he'll take any precautions now that his information may be jeopardized again.

"Those things happen," Chestnut said. "It's troublesome and time-consuming, but you can't protect yourself to death," he said.

Parrott said in his memo that the auditor suggests employees may want to contact one of three credit bureaus - Equifax, Experian and TransUnion - to let them know of the theft so they will put their information on a fraud alert.

The armed robbery was the only significant on-campus crime the school has had in his 11 years, Parrott said.

The robbery at Belhaven occurred a day after a professor was robbed in his office at Jackson State University. The chemistry professor was grading student papers July 18 in his lab on the fifth floor of the John A. Peoples Science building when a masked gunman surprised him. The robber pointed the gun at him and demanded he empty his pockets.

The robber fled with the keys to the professor's home and car, the university said.

No one has been arrested in that case.

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