A former Oklahoma Department of Human Services child welfare specialist is charged with identity theft and a computer crime in Pottawatomie County.
Brenda R. McAlister, 56, of Shawnee, was fired from DHS in late December after she was accused of wrongdoing in attempting to secure a student loan for her daughter. McAlister is accused of using a co-worker’s personal information and forging the co-worker’s signature in order to support the loan. The co-worker claims she did not give McAlister permission to use her information, nor did she know that the woman had used her information or signature in an attempt to receive the loan.
Investigators say the defendant used a DHS computer to falsify the loan documents. A warrant has been issued for her arrest on complaints of identity theft by use of personal information and violation of the Oklahoma Computer Crimes Act.
Oklahoma’s identity theft law is found in 21 O.S. § 1533.1. Under this statute, it is illegal to use someone else’s personal information with the intent to use that information in a fraudulent manner. “Personal identifying information” includes, but is not limited to the following:
- social security number
- date of birth
- place of business or employment
- debit, credit or account numbers
- driver license number
According to the state’s identity theft laws, it is not only a crime to use a person’s identification in a fraudulent manner, but even to obtain it with the intent to use it for a fraudulent purpose. It is also illegal to loan or sell that information to another person or to alter someone else’s personal identifying information to use to commit fraud.
Identity theft in Oklahoma is a felony. The prescribed penalty for identity theft is 1 to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000. State law also allows the victim of identity theft to sue for damages in a civil lawsuit against the person who “stole” his or her identity.
Identity theft may also be prosecuted as a federal offense.
Whenever someone uses a computer in the commission of a crime in Oklahoma, he or she can expect to face a charge of violating the Oklahoma Computer Crimes Act in addition to the criminal charge for the primary offense. In 21 O.S. § 1953, there are 9 specific uses of a computer or network which are considered to be illegal:
- Willfully, and without authorization, gain or attempt to gain access to and damage, modify, alter, delete, destroy, copy, make use of, disclose or take possession of a computer, computer system, computer network or any other property;
- Use a computer, computer system, computer network or any other property as hereinbefore defined for the purpose of devising or executing a scheme or artifice with the intent to defraud, deceive, extort or for the purpose of controlling or obtaining money, property, services or other thing of value by means of a false or fraudulent pretense or representation;
- Willfully exceed the limits of authorization and damage, modify, alter, destroy, copy, delete, disclose or take possession of a computer, computer system, computer network or any other property;
- Willfully and without authorization, gain or attempt to gain access to a computer, computer system, computer network or any other property;
- Willfully and without authorization use or cause to be used computer services;
- Willfully and without authorization disrupt or cause the disruption of computer services or deny or cause the denial of access or other computer services to an authorized user of a computer, computer system or computer network;
- Willfully and without authorization provide or assist in providing a means of accessing a computer, computer system or computer network in violation of this section;
- Willfully use a computer, computer system, or computer network to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass another person; and
- Willfully use a computer, computer system, or computer network to put another person in fear of physical harm or death.
Depending on the specific offense, violating the Oklahoma Computer Crimes Act in one of the above manners may be charged as either a misdemeanor (4,5, or 8) or a felony (1-3, 6-7, or 9).
However, these are not the only conditions under which a person can be charged with violation of the Oklahoma Computer Crimes Act. In 21 O.S. § 1958, it is a felony to use a computer or network to violate any Oklahoma state law. The maximum sentence under this statute is 5 years in prison in addition to any sentence for conviction of the primary offense.