UC Irvine’s identity-theft investigators have been recognized by the International Association of Chiefs of Police for their work uncovering a Dallas-based ring that filed false federal income tax returns using the Social Security numbers of 198 UCI graduate students.

Russell B. Laine, IACP president, sent a letter to UCI Police Chief Paul Henisey congratulating team members Sgts. Shaun Devlin, Anthony Frisbee and Manse Sinkey; Cpl. Caroline Altamirano; Isaac Straley, information technology security manager with Network & Academic Computing Services; and investigator Patsy Williams of the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office on their second-runner-up award.

Laine said, in part: “The University of California, Irvine Police Department demonstrated a high degree of ingenuity and persistence through its efforts to identify and apprehend the individuals responsible for the filing of numerous false tax returns using information illegally obtained. This investigation added significantly to the art and science of criminal investigations by developing innovative strategies for identifying perpetrators of identity theft and further safeguarding the personal information of potential victims.”

UCI’s investigators vied for the 2009 IACP Award for Excellence in Criminal Investigation with much larger law enforcement units, including the Boston Police Department, the Miami-Dade Police Department, the Colombian National Police and the Quebec Provincial Police. The team will be honored in October at the annual IACP conference in Denver.

UCI became aware of the identity theft in March 2008, when students began reporting the problem to the university. When some students attempted to file federal tax returns, the IRS informed them that returns already had been submitted under their Social Security numbers. The UCIPD ultimately received 198 identity-theft reports. Investigators conducted an exhaustive review of information-security practices at UCI, identified the source of the breach as United Healthcare in Dallas and, with the help of law enforcement officials there, arrested a suspect July 8, 2008.

“This involved hundreds of hours, dozens of interviews and complicated computer analyses,” Henisey said.