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Credit agency seeks federal probe of inquiries about ex-Perot volunteers


WASHINGTON -- Complaints by former Perot volunteers that their credit files have been improperly checked have led one large credit agency to ask the Secret Service and the U.S. attorney's office in Georgia to investigate possible computer fraud and abuse.

A spokeswoman for Equifax Inc., a large credit-reporting agency based in Atlanta, said yesterday that its consumer files may have been broken into by unauthorized personnel using the confidential member number and security access code belonging to one of its customers.

The company said there had been credit inquiries on 11 former Perot volunteers that appeared, through notations on their computer records, to have been made through Orix Leasing Co., one of Equifax's customers.

But Orix, based in Portland, Ore., has denied ever checking into the credit histories of the former Perot supporters. In a statement released yesterday, Equifax said:

"Orix, a consumer leasing company that receives credit information from Equifax, states that it believes the consumer files may have been accessed by improper use of Orix's confidential member number and security access code. We immediately changed Orix's member number and access code. Our investigation of the Orix accesses continues.

"Because of the unique aspects of this situation, we have requested the involvement of federal law enforcement authorities and will cooperate fully with them in connection with this matter."

Perot spokeswoman Sharon Holman denied yesterday that the Perot campaign had anything to do with any illegal use of a computer access code, saying, "We don't know anything about Equifax or Orix. We have never done any business with Orix and Equifax."

Told that the Secret Service had been asked to investigate, Ms. Holman said, "I think they should."

In related episodes, the Federal Trade Commission and a House subcommittee on banking recently opened an inquiry into complaints by former Perot volunteers that their credit files have been improperly opened.

Perot officials admitted earlier this month that they paid $56,000 to a San Francisco-based detective agency, Callahan & Gibbons, to investigate allegations of wrongdoing by some of their state coordinators.

Yesterday, Equifax also said it had severed its relationship with a Smithtown, N.Y.-based private detective agency that obtained information on six former Perot volunteers, including two from Frederick, Md.

That detective agency, O'Connell Associates, was an Equifax customer with access to identification information that was to be used for litigation-support and witness-location purposes only.

Since an information request on these Perot volunteers didn't appear to fit either of these categories, Equifax asked the detective agency to identify the client for whom it was requesting the information. When O'Connell, citing attorney/client privilege, refused to disclose that information to Equifax and to the former Perot volunteers who inquired, Equifax terminated its relationship with the agency.

An O'Connell employee said yesterday that no one was available to take or return a reporter's call.

Ms. Holman said she had no knowledge of any Perot campaign business dealings with O'Connell Associates.

A second large credit agency, TRW Information Services, based in Orange County, Calif., is also investigating possible improper sales of information about two former Perot volunteers to a private detective agency.

Susan Murdy, a spokeswoman for TRW, said the agency is considering severing its ties with one of its customers, U.S. Data Link Employment Service, because it "broke our own internal policy" by reselling information about the two volunteers to a detective agency.

Ms. Murdy said the information resold to the detective agency was simply name and updated address, rather than credit history. "Why anyone would want to use an address update of Perot volunteers I don't know," she said.

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