I-TEAM: 5 Oakland school employees blame district for ID theft

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At least 5 Oakland school employees have become victims of identity theft and they blame the district for failing to protect their payroll information.

At least five Oakland school employees have become victims of identity theft over the past two weeks and they blame the district for failing to protect their payroll information.

The ABC7 News I-Team found thousands of pages of sensitive documents left in the old, abandoned school administration building. This controversy may grow far beyond those five employees we know about at this point, who are victims of identity theft.

The I-Team found not only records for many more employees, but also students -- their addresses, birth dates and social security numbers -- all a criminal needs to torment them for years.

This sign points to where the payroll documents were stored.

The Oakland Unified School administration abandoned their headquarters in January 2013, after a janitor left a faucet on overnight, flooding the building.

Since then, school police and staff have played a cat and mouse game with the homeless, and I watched it over the past week. Last Thursday, they boarded up a window where someone got in.

I went back at 6 a.m. on Monday to find someone had broken in again. That's when I ran into Chris Jones who is homeless. I asked him if he was living in the building and he replied, "Something like that. Yeah."

Jones told me he stays on the third floor. He said he didn't know if anyone was taking the payroll records out of the building.

Just inside that window, I found the area where the district kept its payroll records; boxes and boxes of documents are still there. There were unemployment records, W-2's and the confidential records that the district's legal department was storing as well.

I also found student records -- their names, addresses, birth dates and even their social security numbers. The district left this sensitive information behind, when it moved out 18 months ago. With all the break-ins, who knows what criminals now have the information.

There were boxes and boxes of sensitive employee and student information found.

School district carpenter Deryl Hodges said, "That's not right for our personal information to just be left laying behind and anybody could get into it and do with it whatever they want to, you know?"

Hodges believes someone got his information from the old admin building. He says they began making inquiries about his bank accounts last month, and two weeks ago they finally struck. Hodges said someone had withdrawn his entire checking account, to the penny. He said he had about $1,500 in his account.

Hodges is among five victims so far who've had their identities stolen -- they've had several credit cards taken out in their names, store accounts and inquiries into their retirement accounts.

The school district's risk assessment team is now investigating why the five identity theft victims are carpenters for the district. They don't know why other types of district employees have not been hit.

Antwan Wilson took over as Oakland school superintendent on July 1 and held his first news conference.

At that time he said, "We also want to put ourselves in a position to be smarter today than we were yesterday."

However, Wilson refused to be interviewed for this story -- the first controversy of his administration.

He directed me to district spokesman Troy Flint. He told the I-Team, "Certainly, this wasn't handled in the best manner possible. There were some major shortcomings in the way we dealt with this."

Within hours of that interview, the district hired a restoration company to clean up the mess and box up the documents. They wouldn't let me inside to see the work. Flint tells me the district will have the documents safely out of there by early next week and will take care of any employee who's been affected, including paying for credit cleansing or a protection service.

Personal information and confidential documents could easily be found.

It's not just payroll records. There were also student records there with their social security numbers. So I asked Flint what he has to say to the parents whose child's information has been exposed like this. He replied, "I would say the same thing to parents as we say to employees, that we offer a deep apology."

I also reached out to the Oakland schools Governing Board, but each of them failed to respond to my emails and phone calls. So, I contacted former school board president Dan Siegel.

Siegel said, "The fact that it's been going on for 18 months is just flabbergasting."

He's also a former Oakland Unified general counsel and is now running for mayor of Oakland.

Siegel said, "The school district has an absolute legal responsibility to safeguard the personnel information of its employees and to safeguard student records as well."

There is one other important part to this story -- vandals have stripped all the wiring out of the old admin building, from the ceilings, the walls and even the elevator. They can sell it. This is another tremendous waste of public assets -- your money. Still, this raises even more questions.

Some of the valuable wiring in the building has been stripped by thieves.

I asked why the district didn't simply post a security guard there after the flood. The answer was they have to concentrate their guards on the schools, where vandalism is common.

OUSD shows I-Team document security improvements

The Oakland Unified School District showed me the work that has been done to safeguard hundreds of boxes of sensitive documents, including employee and student records. That was in response to our investigation.

Those boxes may be safe now, but we still don't know how much information is already out there in the hands of the bad guys.

Carpenter Paul Rasmussen said, "Numerous credit cards were taken out in my name. It says someone has taken out at least seven credit cards with his information, applied for insurance and opened store lines of credit."

He had his interview with the Oakland Unified School District's legal department on Friday. He did not want to deal with something like this, as he heads into retirement, after 24 years with the district.

Rasmussen said, "I'm really worried about my retirement. I don't know if they can get into my retirement accounts and have social security sent to an erroneous address, I don't know how good they are."

I wanted to talk to the schools governing board about the identity theft, but also about what else the district left behind when it moved so suddenly. On the tour of the old administration building, I saw rooms and rooms of perfectly good office furniture, cases of brand new printer cartridges, dozens of computers and monitors just sitting there for the past 18 months. There even was a baby grand piano. All of it is your money.

There are so many angles to this story that the I-Team will be following. The calls and emails are coming in. If you have something for me to check out on this or another story, call 1-888-40-I-Team or email the I-Team at: ITeam@kgo-tv.com

After this story aired, OUSD Superintendent Antwan Wilson released this public apology letter.
Related Topics:
I-Teamidentity theftcrimepublic schoolschoolhomelesssecurityOakland
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