New Trier investigates teachers’ identity thefts

The apparent identity thefts of more than 40 former and current New Trier High School employees have prompted the school district to ask local and state law enforcement authorities for help with the investigation, New Trier officials confirmed this week.

The situation was disclosed after retired New Trier High School biology teacher Zachary Lazar, who said he is one of the identity theft victims, asked District 203 officials to “centralize” the information about the investigation.

“None of the investigating departments are talking to each other because the identity theft victims live all over the place,” said Lazar, a Northbrook resident who taught in the New Trier science department from 1970 to 1994.

  • Related
  • Thieves left messages on Wilmette school's whiteboards

    Thieves left messages on Wilmette school’s whiteboards

  • New Trier warns parents about 'cold water challenge'

    New Trier warns parents about ‘cold water challenge’

  •  New Trier offers tours to build support for renovations

    New Trier offers tours to build support for renovations

  • Police reports: New Trier vandalized, tunnel graffiti, stolen wallet

  • Suburban Chicago arrest photos

  • New Trier High School

  • Maps

  • Winnetka

New Trier officials said they were alerted in March to the possible thefts of personal identifying information and hired an outside firm that specializes in investigating data theft, spokeswoman Nicole Dizon said.

In a letter sent to all retirees whose addresses were known, school officials said their expert “found no evidence that anyone had compromised the security, confidentiality or integrity of any New Trier databases that store the personal information of current or former employees.”

But officials and those affected are still trying to determine the source of the apparent breach and whether it involved data held by the district or by another party.

The stolen personal information was used in a variety of ways, Dizon said, including to open fraudulent credit card and cellphone accounts and in bogus tax filings.

The common links among the affected teachers appear to be that they are all participants in the Illinois Teachers Retirement System and were hired at New Trier from 1968 to 1993.

“The investigators were not able to determine if there had been a breach in the past due to the length of time that had passed since the hiring of the majority of those affected and the replacement of systems used at that time,” Dizon said in a statement Tuesday. “Further, the records of about half of these employees were no longer stored in our systems, as we typically only keep electronic records for three years, and some of these employees retired as early as 1998.”

The district also has provided advice to retirees and employees about protecting their personal information.

Nonetheless, for retiree Lazar, 76, the situation has been troubling since he discovered he was a victim. That happened when he tried unsuccessfully to file his income tax return online and was told his Social Security number had already been submitted by another user.

In addition, Lazar said, he recently received a court summons from New York state involving a real estate dispute for property linked to his stolen Social Security number.

After Lazar shared his identity theft stories with fellow New Trier retirees with whom he’s kept in touch, he said he realized there were dozens of other former teachers who had been victimized.

“We started to talk, and it turned out that we didn’t have accounts at the same bank, but the only thing we all did have in common is we retired from New Trier,” Lazar said.

Joyce Grant, 67, a retired New Trier English teacher from Glencoe who said her personal information had been stolen, said district officials have been responsive to concerns from affected retirees.

Still, Grant said, it was heartbreaking to learn that some of the retired teachers who have been victims of identity theft are now too frail and ill to manage the situation on their own.

“Having your identity stolen is such a violation,” said Grant, whose Social Security number was used for a fraudulent IRS filing and cellphone account.

“One retired teacher wrote to me and said, ‘Every day I wait for another letter to come in the mail telling me I’ve been defrauded in some way,'” said Grant, who taught at New Trier from 1969 to 2002. “And this is after you’ve worked hard your whole life to keep a good name.”

New Trier will continue to investigate the issue “internally and with outside consultants as necessary,” said Dizon, adding that officials have asked the Winnetka and Northfield police departments, the Cook County state’s attorney and the Illinois attorney general to help with the investigation.

Dave Urbanek, spokesman for the Teachers Retirement System, said TRS officials directed an outside firm to investigate the matter after officials received a call from a New Trier retiree alerting them to the identity thefts and a call from District 203 in mid-May.

That firm “ran all kinds of tests and have assured us the problem is not with us,” said Urbanek, adding that TRS represents 390,000 members in 1,000 districts outside of Chicago.

“Since this instance, we’ve not had any complaints or examples of identity theft in the state of Illinois from either teachers or districts,” he said.

Twitter @kcullotta

Article source:,0,2952597.story

Technorati Tags: ,

Tags: ,

Leave a Reply