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Cops say suspected data thief continued spending while awaiting trial

11:31 PM, Feb 18, 2010   |    comments
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Video: Kaiser ID theft cases has employees worried

  • Detectives found Mia Garza's face superimposed on a Kaiser employee's driver license
  • Detectives said Mia Garza decorated her ankle bracelet with costume jewels
    

SACRAMENTO, CA - A data breach involving 29,500 Northern California Kaiser Permanente employees discovered a year ago has led to at least 400 Kaiser employees becoming victims of identity theft, according to criminal investigators.

Detectives said the woman accused of stealing the Kaiser personnel file continued to victimize employees even while she awaited trial.

Mia Garza, 29, worked for the United Healthcare Workers union and is suspected of stealing the file from the union office in 2007.  The Excel spreadsheet contained the names, addresses, dates of birth and Social Security numbers of the 29,500 union members employed by Kaiser.  The theft was discovered following an unrelated search of Garza's home in San Ramon in December 2008 and the Kaiser employees were notified individually last February.

Investigators said the actual theft took place in 2007 and Garza had used credit cards belonging to Kaiser employees repeatedly before she was arrested.

Liposuction, travel and Nordstrom gift cards

One investigator told News10 Garza attempted to use a counterfeit driver license in the name of a Kaiser employee to board a flight at Oakland International Airport in June 2008.  A TSA security screener confiscated the driver license but Garza was not arrested, according to the investigator. 

Garza was living in Elk Grove in 2009 while awaiting trial in Contra Costa County and was ordered to wear an ankle bracelet for monitoring.  On Dec. 2, Garza was arrested at the Sono Bello liposuction clinic in Sacramento while trying to charge an $11,145 procedure on a credit card belonging to a Kaiser employee.  She was released on bail but failed to appear for her scheduled arraignment on Dec. 9 and an arrest warrant was issued.

In the meantime, police in the Bay Area had linked Garza to an identity theft case involving a Kaiser employee in Palo Alto.  The Sacramento Hi-Tech Crimes Task Force was asked to arrest Garza and search her Elk Grove apartment.

A search of Garza's apartment Feb. 3 turned up dozens of driver licenses and credit cards belonging to Kaiser employees.  Hi-Tech Crimes Detective Al Kirby said Garza had rented the apartment using stolen Social Security and driver license numbers.  Kirby said Garza decorated the ankle bracelet with costume jewels and had actually removed it from her ankle.

Detectives also found evidence Garza bought a $2,300 Shih Tzu and a $1,700 Yorkshire Terrier from out-of-state breeders with stolen credit cards.

Hi-Tech Crimes Task Force commander Capt. Jim Cooper said it was too early to calculate the exact dollar losses, but in the case of just one Kaiser employee, 83 Nordstrom gift cards were fraudulently charged on a single credit card.

Stolen Kaiser data distributed to ID theft ring

Sacramento detectives had been working independently on Kaiser identity theft cases but hadn't yet made the connection to Garza.  The Hi-Tech Crimes Task Force has now linked Garza with at least 20 associates who appear to be using the stolen Kaiser information, according to investigator Joe Moody.

Moody said most of Garza's associates have been identified and arrests were expected soon.  "They're continuing to victimize the same Kaiser employees multiple times," He said.

San Ramon Police Detective Mike Schneider, who uncovered the original data theft from the UHW, said the continuing victimization of Kaiser employees is common in identity theft cases.  "Victims thought they were clear because a suspect had been caught and charged," he said.

Schneider said the Kaiser employee file was only 17 megabytes in size and was therefore easy to share.  "It could take years for victims to clear their names," he said.

Garza is being held on a no-bail warrant in the Contra Costa County jail while she awaits trial for the original Kaiser data theft.  Additionally, Garza faces multiple charges in California, Oregon and Washington based on fraudulent purchases made since the data was stolen.

Sacramento court records indicate Garza also uses the names Dawn Chitwood, Sierra Morgan and Veronica Garza.  Garza faces a $1 million bail hold in Sacramento if and when she's returned to face charges here.

Last February, Kaiser Permanente said it would offer one-year fraud monitoring for the employees who had their personal information stolen.  A Kaiser spokesman would not comment for this story.

by George Warren, GWarren@news10.net 

News10/KXTV

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