Data breaches at hospitals and other health care providers are a major problem. The Ponemon Institute’s study of the health care industry this year found 90% of health care organizations suffered data breaches during the last two years including the massive data breach at Anthem. However, often overlooked is the fact that not all data breaches are caused by outside attacks. Many of them are caused by rogue employees with access to data that they steal and then sell to others or use themselves for purposes of identity theft. Recently Alana Wells a health care worker in Alabama pleaded guilty to stealing patients’ names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers and then using them with her co-conspirators for purposes of income tax identity theft by which they filed phony tax returns using the names and Social Security numbers of their victims’ seeking fraudulent tax refunds. Sentencing will occur later this year and she faces a sentence of up to seven years in prison.
Apart from the lesson that employers must do a better job of protecting the data they hold from rogue employees, which admittedly is a difficult job, one thing we as consumers should do is recognize that this problem occurs everywhere and consequently, whenever possible, we should limit the amount of personal information we give any company or institution with which we do business to the minimum amount necessary. When it comes to hospitals and health care institutions, despite the fact that they routinely ask for your Social Security number, they have no true reason to use it as an identifier. When asked, suggest another number such as your driver’s license.