A woman employed as a State Department contractor was indicted in Houston on Wednesday for an alleged identity theft scheme using personal information she stole while working at a passport office.
The contractor, Chloe McClendon, and two other women were charged “with multiple counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft,” according to the Associated Press.
Since 2010, the defendants used the stolen names, addresses and Social Security numbers from people’s passports to create fake documents and used those identities to borrow money to purchase electronics, including iPhones and iPads, federal prosecutors say in court documents.
We reported last month that the U.S. Passport Agency had banned contractors from bringing cellphones to work, and was planning to extend that rule to government employees too. And we’d heard it was spurred by a bad actor in Houston storing and transmitting applicants’ personal data.
Rob Arnold, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE) Local 1998 that represents Passport Agency workers nationwide, said they’ve reached an agreement with management to begin bargaining the proposed ban on electronic devices soon. They are apparently exempting government-issued BlackBerry phones, though those have cameras too.
One issue, Arnold told the Loop on Friday, is that the agency has cut costs in recent years by employing contractors to do jobs that used to be government posts, and giving them increasingly more responsibility.
“The fact that they actually committed identity theft, victimizing the people applying for passports, may be an unprecedented low in the Agency’s history,” Arnold said. “The few and rare malfeasance cases over the years have involved bribes for passports, not harming those applying for passports.”
A State Department official did not immediately return request for comment about the indictment.
Arnold said the crime should be taken very seriously, but maintained that a ban on electronics wouldn’t stop such fraud.
“If the contractors had been caught writing down the applicants’ private information on a piece of paper, would they have banned paper and pens?” he said. “There are least half a dozen other ways — including faxing, copying, or just memorizing a few details — to commit that fraud.”
He added that full-time Passport specialists “spend their entire careers detecting and preventing identity theft.”