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Stolen prisoners' identities netted $422,523 in college loans

Alan Johnson • Updated Dec 13, 2016 at 10:04 PM

State investigators have uncovered a scheme where the identities of prison inmates were stolen to fraudulently apply for and receive $422,523 in student college loans.

Ohio Inspector General Randall J. Meyer found the fraud during a two-year investigation after receiving a tip from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General in 2014. Meyer's report, released today, faulted the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction for not following procedures to protect confidential inmate information.

However, no criminal charges were recommended by Meyer because it was not possible to identify who actually stole the confidential information and who benefited from it.

Investigators found that prison employees, outside contractors, and third-party social service providers had access to confidential personal information of all 50,000 inmates in state prisons. Because the access trail was unaudited, however, there is no way to know who stole the inmate identities, the inspector general concluded.

The investigation found 145 applications for college financial aid were submitted through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASA), a program used by millions of students seeking federal aid, grants and loans, using information stolen from inmates and parolees from Feb. 1, 2012, to July 9, 2014. Of those, 62 applications were approved for enrollment in colleges and universities around the country. The applicants were granted $422,523 in federal college aid, most of which went to the schools in question.

Meyer's report said the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction is exempt from a state law requiring a system log of who accessed specific confidential information from inmates. However, the prisons agency didn't completely get off the hook because investigators said officials must come up with a plan within 60 days comply with Ohio Department of Administrative Services rules restricting access to confidential information.

The full report in online at http://watchdog.ohio.gov/Investigations/2016Investigations.aspx

ajohnson@dispatch.com

@ohioaj

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©2016 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

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