Nearly 200 have called UF so far about possible identity theft
Published: Thursday, April 4, 2013 at 5:54 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 4, 2013 at 5:54 p.m.
Nearly 200 people have called the University of Florida privacy office and call center worried that they are victims of identity theft after Wednesday’s announcement that a former employee had been arrested for his involvement in an identity theft ring that potentially affects over 14,000 patients at the UF&Shands Family Medicine at Main practice in Gainesville.
UF spokesperson Melissa Lutz Blouin said that, as of Thursday afternoon, 179 patients at the clinic had called the call center, which is helping identity theft victims with fraud resolution services.
An investigation conducted by the state attorney, Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Secret Service found that a UF employee at the Main practice, Arthur Thomas, was involved in an identity theft ring. Thomas was arrested Tuesday. UF had fired him in October, when the investigation began.
Thomas was employed from March 1, 2009 to Oct. 31, 2012, so UF on Tuesday sent letters to all 14,339 patients seen at the Main clinic during that period who might have been targeted in the identity theft, Lutz Blouin said.
She added that the number reflects the people who “could have been exposed. That does not necessarily mean he used all of those records in a criminal manner,” she said, adding that patients seen at UF&Shands’ other clinics during the period in which Thomas was employed are not implicated as potential victims of identity theft from this case.
Although UF has not disclosed what Thomas’ position was, Lutz Blouin said investigators “are able to tell what this person had access to” and that Thomas had “willful intent to misuse privileged information.”
She added that generally patient access “is limited to people who need to do something with that information,” such as putting something in a chart or mailing a bill. The university reviewed its hiring practices as part of its own investigation into the matter, and sent out a memo to employees “asking people to be vigilant and to report suspicious activity to supervisors,” Lutz Blouin said.
A former intern at the Brentwood Primary Center, which is affiliated with Shands at Jacksonville, was also arrested for her involvement in the same identity theft ring. The intern, Daremia Crews, was arrested in January.
Shands at Jacksonville sent letters, also on Tuesday, to 1,025 patients who are potential victims of Crews’ involvement in the ring and has received 50 calls so far, said spokesperson Dan Leveton.
UF&Shands at both sites is offering fraud resolution services for victims free of charge.
“We can help them write letters and get notifications out there so they are not spending extra time fixing the fallout of this,” said Susan Blair, chief privacy officer at UF&Shands.
“We’re all deeply disappointed in this whole episode,” Blair said. “This type of data breach has not happened before.” Blair added that UF has been victim of hacking episodes.
Florida is the No. 1 state for identity theft, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Already this year, four hospitals or health centers have been targets of identity theft through employees, according to Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a California-based consumer education and advocacy nonprofit.
These include South Miami Hospital, Palm Beach County Health Department, Boca Raton Regional Hospital and Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare.
If there’s any lesson to be learned from the UF episode, it’s that “you need to check your credit report annually if you’re a Floridian,” Blair said.
She added that people can get a free credit report annually from Experian, Equifax and TransUnion credit agencies, and she advises using them four months apart, to keep track of their credit each year.
“If new accounts are being opened that you didn’t know anything about, you need to take immediate action through credit agencies,” Blair said.
People who suspect they’ve been victims of identity theft at UF&Shands Main clinic can call 877-552-1299. The number for the Jacksonville Support Center is 877-676-0383.
For more information: http://privacy.ufl.edu.
Contact Kristine Crane at 338-3119, or firstname.lastname@example.org.