AL: Patient data stolen from Troy Regional Medical Center used in tax refund fraud scheme

A press release dated July 6 – admirably prominently posted from the medical center’s home page – says:

TROY, Ala. (July 6, 2011) – Troy Regional Medical Center (TRMC) has notified certain patients of a data theft incident involving unauthorized access and removal of some of their personal information. TRMC is conducting a comprehensive investigation into the incident and, based on information obtained to date, it appears the patients impacted by the incident were limited to individuals born between 1988 and 1992.

The hospital has sent a letter to the approximately 880 patients affected recommending specific steps they should take to protect their personal information against harm and detailing the free identity protection resources being made available to them in response to the incident.

TRMC learned on May 20, 2011, that certain data, including certain patients’ personal information, had been accessed and removed from the hospital without authorization and in direct violation of hospital policy in the early part of this year. The patient data accessed was limited to name, address, date of birth, social security number, and medical record number. Other medical information, such as the patient’s treatment or diagnosis, was not included.

Law enforcement officials have initiated a criminal investigation into the matter. TMRC is not a target of that investigation and the hospital is cooperating, and will continue to cooperate, with investigators. In addition, the hospital has conducted its own internal investigation and has already implemented a number of steps to reinforce hospital safeguards and procedures. The hospital has also made arrangements to provide immediate, mandatory training to all employees regarding protection of patient information.

Law enforcement officials have communicated that some of the personal information removed from the hospital may have been used to file fraudulent income tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Law enforcement has advised that other healthcare providers in Georgia and Alabama have also been targeted by the perpetrators.

“We greatly regret this incident and we are committed to protecting our patients’ information and to providing assistance to protect the personal information of the patients affected,” said TRMC Chief Executive Officer and Administrator Teresa Grimes. “In addition to expressing our sincere regret for this incident, we are making free identity protection resources available to affected patients at no charge and providing a toll-free number they can call with questions or concerns.”

TRMC is providing identity protection resources to those affected at no expense for a period of one year. Affected patients have been sent information by U.S. mail with details regarding how to activate their protection, which is being provided by Experian through its ProtectMyID product.

To determine whether a fraudulent income tax return may have been filed and invoke other protections that may be available from the IRS and other agencies, affected patients may also contact the IRS toll free at (800) 908-4490 or in person at 1285 Carmichael Way, Montgomery, Alabama 36106 and contact the Federal Trade Commission toll free at (877) 438-4338 or online at www.consumer.gov/idtheft.

Any individual who may have information about this incident is encouraged to please contact the hospital toll free at (800) 457-5173. Information may be communicated anonymously.

Stacy Graning of The Troy Messenger reports on the breach and adds some interesting details – such as the fact that it was law enforcement who notified the hospital of the breach on May 20 and that the breach involved the removal of paper records, not remote access to electronic records.

In some respects, this sounds somehwat similar to another recently reported breach, also in Alabama, involving the theft of patient records. Were Troy’s patient records discovered in the course of a search of someone’s home? And could this case and the Trinity Medical Center case be related, or are they independent breaches?

Once again, though, it appears at first blush that hospital records were stolen but that a hospital did not know until notified by law enforcement. If that’s the case, it’s cause for concern and serious discussion as to how covered entities are keeping track of paper records.

You can read more of Stacy Graning’s reporting on the case on Troy Messenger.

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