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Lawyers Probed in ‘Pretext’ ID Theft

Posted Dec 6, 2007 7:06 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Updated: Lawyers throughout the country reportedly may be investigated as part of a Washington state-based probe of an alleged scheme in which a local firm, BNT Investigations, was hired by private detectives all over the U.S. to obtain confidential personal information by pretext.

A federal grand jury in Seattle has indicted 10 people in the case, as an investigation continues to determine who else may be criminally involved, reports the Seattle Times. Many of the private investigators who retained BNT worked for law firms, the article continues, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathryn Frierson says agents are "actively investigating" whether attorneys at these law firms, among others who were involved in seeking information from BNT, also committed crimes. "How far does the knowledge go up?" she says. "That is the critical question."

Key workers at BNT, which is based in Belfair, in Mason County, may have tried to obtain confidential information for as many as 12,000 individuals involved in bankruptcies, lawsuits, divorces and collection efforts, among other matters, according to U.S. Attorney Jeff Sullivan.

Suspects in the case who worked for BNT would pretend in telephone calls to be the individuals about whom they were trying to obtain information. Claiming make-believe hardships or emergencies, they sought—and often obtained—confidential medical, social security and tax return information from agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service and the Social Security Administration, the newspaper reports.

The unusual "pretexting" case is only the second of its kind nationwide, according to Sullivan. The first was the Hewlett-Packard boardroom spying scandal, which is detailed in an earlier ABAJournal.com post.

A press release from Sullivan's office gives further details about the case.

(Updated at 2:49 a.m., central time, Dec. 10.)

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