ChoicePoint Struck by ID Theft Crime Ring

Georgia company falls victim to crime ring; 145,000 notified that their personal data may have been stolen


LOS ANGELES (AP) - About 145,000 people nationwide are being notified that their personal information may have been stolen by thieves who fraudulently signed up with a company that collects consumer data.

ChoicePoint Inc. announced Wednesday that it was sending warning letters to 110,000 possible victims beyond the 35,000 in California, where a unique state law requires such disclosure.

The Alpharetta, Ga.-based company said it decided to expand its warnings after learning from Los Angeles County sheriff's investigators that the fraud ring appeared to be a national operation.

"We have no problem with notification," ChoicePoint spokesman James Lee said. "We do very strongly believe there needs to be a broader public discussion."

The ring, which operated for more than a year before it was detected, has defrauded at least 750 people, according to sheriff's detective Duane Decker.

One suspect, Olatunji Oluwatosin, was arrested in October and investigators believe at least several other people were involved. Oluwatosin, a 41-year-old Nigerian national, was due in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Thursday.

The thieves apparently used previously stolen identities to create what appeared to be legitimate businesses seeking ChoicePoint accounts, the company said. They opened about 50 accounts and received volumes of data on consumers, including names and addresses, important identification numbers and job histories.

The warning letter advises recipients to check their credit reports.

The ChoicePoint attack could galvanize support for a federal law protecting consumers from corporate security breaches. New Hampshire, New York and Texas are considering similar bills, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., reintroduced legislation last month for a national version of the California law.

ChoicePoint, formerly a division of the credit agency Equifax but a separate company since 1997, has databases with approximately 19 billion public records, spokesman Chuck Jones said recently.

The company compiles and sells personal information on U.S. residents, such as motor vehicle and credit records, car and boat registrations, liens and deed transfers and military records.