ID crime hits campus: Whitman student suspected of identity theft, burglary

Shelly Le

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Police arrested a Whitman student the morning of Thursday, Oct. 27, for allegedly creating false Whitman identification cards to gain swipe access to a number of restricted areas.

Senior Simon Van Neste is accused of second-degree identity theft and second-degree burglary and was detained for four days at the Walla Walla County Corrections Facility. He has since been released.

Whitman Information Technology Services was alerted to a series of invalid swipe attempts to a number of buildings on campus including Hunter Conservatory and Reid Campus Center and reported the issue to Campus Security on Saturday, Oct. 3.

According to Director of Security Terry Thompson, the swipe records indicated that a person had attempted to enter a facility at an unusual time or had swiped his or her ID at an unexpected facility.

Security subsequently interviewed nine individuals, six by phone and three in-person, whose ID numbers had been used to attempt to gain swipe access into buildings around campus.

“We had one staff member whose card was used . . . numerous times to attempt access to buildings, and in fact access was gained into several buildings or at least the card activated the door. However, that staff member had his ID in his possession and he was at home,” Thompson said.

Security was notified of a number of questionable card access attempts into Reid on the night of Tuesday, Oct. 24. Van Neste was found at Reid around the time security was alerted.

According to the Walla Walla Police Department press release, Van Neste was found with a homemade ID card composed of his own picture and the ID number of another student. Later investigation that day revealed two additional IDs hidden in Reid Campus Center.

“The cards were just like a regular Whitman ID card, nothing on them but just the magnetic stripe,” said Craig McKinnon, assistant director of security.

Subsequent to being taken into custody, Van Neste turned over a magnetic stripe card encoder and 13 stripe cards to campus security. According to police, Van Neste reported that he had used the ID cards of students, faculty and staff to gain access to secured areas around campus.

The press release also reported that Van Neste had gained access to a staff member’s Whitman login password, allowing him to view all student information the staff member was able to access, including Whitman ID numbers.

President George Bridges sent out an email to students, faculty and staff regarding the security breach, the afternoon of Thursday, Oct. 27.

“At this point, the investigations have found no evidence that the student obtained access to confidential or private information retained by other campus community members or to critical and confidential data retained by the College,” Bridges said. “We believe that most aspects of the network and the information it contains remain very secure.”

Dean of Students Chuck Cleveland noted that, because the investigation is still ongoing, the college cannot take an official stance in determining whether Van Neste has formally violated any school policies.

“There are all kinds of accusations and allegations, but the investigations are still going on, there are no final conclusions about anything, and it will be up to the council on student affairs to determine whether or not there’s been a policy violation,” he said.

The investigation is now being handled by Walla Walla’s Police Computer Forensics Investigator, who will be processing numerous hard drives for further evidence.

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