Following are copies of a couple of recent articles - not surprising, huh?
This story ran in BusinessWeek Online, and has been carried by newspapers nationally.
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/NEWARK, N.J.
By JEFFREY GOLD
AP Business Writer
Debtor claims trafficking ring hurt credit
MAY. 27 3:04 P.M. ET A debtor claimed Friday that a collection agency improperly discovered and seized his bank account because of information stolen by a ring accused of trafficking in hundreds of thousands of stolen names and Social Security numbers.
The accuser, Robert A. Jones, believes the agency, Pressler & Pressler, probably learned of his account at Commerce Bank from information allegedly purchased from Orazio Lembo Jr., the accused ringleader, according to the lawsuit filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Camden.
Hackensack police, who broke the case, have heard from other debtors seeking information and documents, but not Jones, Capt. Frank Lomia said.
"Certainly, no good can come from this criminal conspiracy. I just see these cases multiplying," Lomia said.
Lawyers for some debtors, and people who have had their pay garnisheed, are seeking to subpoena police records, he said. Those records, however, will not be released while the investigation continues, he said.
Lomia reiterated Friday that banks have not reported any money missing from accounts of thousands of customers whose financial information may have been stolen by bank employees allegedly paid by Lembo.
Authorities have not yet determined how many of the 676,000 people whose names and Social Security numbers were found on computer discs seized from Lembo and his company had accounts at four major banks, Lomia said.
Lembo is accused of compiling lists of names of people who are being pursued by collection agencies and sending them to the bank workers to see if any were customers. The bank workers were paid $10 for each account they turned over to Lembo, police said.
Jones had the Commerce Bank account for several years, but it was only seized in February, said his lawyer, Philip Stephen Fuoco. "He didn't reveal it to anyone else," the lawyer said.
Jones received a letter in the past week from Commerce Bank alerting him that he was among account holders whose names were found on Lembo's computers, the lawyer said.
The Jones account, holding about $2,000, went toward satisfying a judgment from 2003 for consumer debt, Fuoco said.
The lawsuit charges that Pressler & Pressler violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act by using unlawfully obtained information.
It also seeks class-action status on behalf of all people in the United States whose accounts allegedly were obtained by Lembo or his Hackensack-based business, DRL Associates.
A call seeking comment from Pressler & Pressler, a law firm that specializes in debt collection, was directed to a senior attorney at the firm, Gerard J. Felt, who did not immediately return a message Friday.
The banks, Bank of America, Commerce Bank, PNC Bank and Wachovia Bank, have been alerting customers and monitoring accounts for unusual activity, officials said.
Bank of America, based in Charlotte, N.C., said this week that it had about 60,000 customers on the names found by police, but no evidence of account fraud or identity theft.
PNC Bank, based in Pittsburgh, said it found 12 of its customers among the names, and none had had money or information taken.
Charlotte-based Wachovia said it had 50,000 former or current customers on the list, and no evidence of missing money or identity theft.
Cherry Hill-based Commerce Bank did not return messages Friday or earlier this week.
Lembo, seven bank employees and a state worker were charged April 28 in a plot to steal financial records after evidence was found on computers during a February search of Lembo's apartment during a separate investigation, police said.
Bank data suit filed
Saturday, May 28, 2005
Camco resident claims account illegally seized
By RENEE WINKLER
A Camden County man, who acknowledges he had unpaid debts that were turned over to a collection agency, on Friday sued in U.S. District Court for class-action status for hundreds of thousands of bank customers he claims were victims of unlawful debt practices.
Robert A. Jones, whose address is not included in court documents, identifies himself as a Commerce Bank customer whose records he believes were sold to a Hackensack man who then turned them over to a law firm specializing in debt collection.
The only defendant in the lawsuit is the law firm, Pressler & Pressler LLP of Cedar Knolls, Morris County.
Pressler & Pressler seized Jones' $2,000 account for unpaid bills in February, according to the lawsuit. The timing of that seizure "appears to coincide with the dates when Orazio Lembo Jr. unlawfully purchased bank account information," said Philip Steven Fuoco, the Haddonfield attorney who filed the lawsuit for Jones.
Officials say Lembo paid $10 to bank employees for each account number. None of the banks whose employees reportedly sold information, nor Lembo, is a defendant in the lawsuit.
Lembo has been charged in Hackensack with racketeering and disclosing confidential information. That information was used to build a multimillion dollar business of his own, DRL & Associates, police said.
Fuoco said the plaintiff class, which would have to be certified by a judge, could include hundreds of thousands of bank customers. His lawsuit could be expanded to include customers of other banks named in previously reported sales of personal information. The other banks are Bank of America, Wachovia and PNC.
In addition to Lembo, police in Hackensack have arrested 10 people, including eight former bank employees. The Wall Street Journal reported this week as many as 10 banks may have been victimized in the scheme. Hackensack police Capt. Frank Lomie has said there could be as many as 700,000 potential victims.
Lembo, 35, of Hackensack, described himself as a "deadbeat locator service and collection agency." The information he obtained and sold to the law firm was not used to create new accounts, so it is not considered identity theft.
Both the Federal Fair Debt Collection Act and New Jersey statutes make it unlawful to take or use information from a computer database without authorization, said Fuoco.
Fuoco said there was no legal way for Lembo to obtain Jones' bank account information.
A telephone call to Pressler & Pressler was not returned on Friday.
In addition to seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages and costs of the investigation and attorney fees, the lawsuit asks that Pressler & Pressler be barred from using confidential banking information obtained from Lembo or his company.
The lawsuit asks the courts to order that all illegally obtained information be destroyed and that people whose information was sold be told which companies were given the information.
somerset, New Jersey