Police say toll road worker stole customers' identities

| 4/19/2005

Customers of a California toll road agency have been alerted that a customer service worker stole the identity of a driver who uses the road.

The Transportation Corridor Agencies, which operates several toll roads in Orange County, CA, confirmed that it sent out a letter to 4,500 customers last week. All of those people were told their account information was accessed by an employee of VESystems, a company that does customer service work for the toll agencies.

A suspect has been charged with identity theft in the case. The Orange County Register identified that suspect as Abraham Buonya, 27, of Ontario. Local law-enforcement told the newspaper that three victims were involved.

Michael Leahy, chief toll operations officer with the agencies, called the theft “a low-tech crime.”

“Customer information is very secure, and customer service representatives have very limited access to FasTrak credit card information, such as to open a new account or change credit card information,” he said in a written statement. “In this case, the person took the opportunity to write a card number down and walk out with it.”

A customer whose identity was stolen alerted toll road officials after noticing unusual activity on a credit card account. Claire Climaco, a spokeswoman for the agencies, said that many customers use a prepaid account option that charges tolls to a credit card.

The agencies’ computer system does not allow most workers to see an entire credit card number – usually, only the last four digits are visible on customer service computer screens. Only when a new account is opened or a credit card number is changed over the phone is the whole number available to one of the workers.

The agencies are encouraging those customers who received one of the letters to review their credit card statements for unusual activity and report any suspected fraud to a credit-reporting agency.

The letters were sent to only a small portion of the toll roads’ customer base. Roughly 300,000 people have accounts with the system.

The Transportation Corridor Agencies operates 51 miles of toll road in Orange County, which is on the south side of the Los Angeles metropolitan area. That includes the San Joaquin Hills Toll Road, which carries state Route 73 from Newport Beach to San Juan Capistrano; and the Foothill/Eastern Toll Roads, which carries state Routes 241, 261 and 133 from the state Route 91 Freeway to south Orange County.

– By Mark H. Reddig, associate editor