Tucked in among the Christmas cards, thousands of South Carolinians found a not-so-welcome letter in their mailbox this month. Their personal information might be compromised.
A laptop stolen from an auditor's car in October contained the names and Social Security Numbers of nearly 3,500 members of the South Carolina Health Insurance Pool.
It's health coverage for people who can't get insurance in the regular marketplace, often because of preexisting conditions. The laptop was password-protected, but the information was not encrypted.
"We're working with them [DeLoach & Williams] to work on future practices, policies and procedures that'll be put in place," said Cynthia Hutto, the attorney hired to handle the data breach.
Another practice Hutto said is under review: why auditors have access to SCHIP subscriber social security numbers. People were not notified their information was compromised for two months.
Hutto said that's how long it took to identify who was at risk, find their addresses, set up a call center to answer their questions and offer a year of free credit monitoring.
"We've had a lot of problems with identity theft, just as you have in banks or anywhere else. It occurs in health care," said Becky Carter, who oversees how patient data is collected and stored at Bon Secours St. Francis in Greenville.
Carter said a name and Social Security Number alone can be all someone needs to steal your medical identity.
"People lie, unfortunately, because they want something for free," said Carter.
That's why the hospital is rolling out a tool next month called PatientSecure, which identifies patients by reading the vein layout in their palms -- something you just can't steal.
"You can't print it out. It's not going to do you any good," said Carter.
Hutto said there is no indication the thief has been able to access the personal information on that laptop. She said SCHIP is not aware of any actual or attempted fraud specifically caused by the laptop's theft.
For now, the auditor's firm is paying for credit monitoring for the victims.
According to the South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs, there are three common ways thieves use your identity. There's medical identity theft, where someone gets treatment and pretends to be you. An identity thief may also sell your Social Security Number or use that number to get a job or other benefits. Your Social Security Number could also be used for income tax fraud.
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