According to a local ABC News affiliate, U.S. Attorney Dana J. Boente reported that the woman was sentenced to 41 months in prison for the conspiracy charges and two years for the identity theft charge. She will also be forced to pay more than $99,000 in restitution, and will serve the prison sentences consecutively.
The court records from the case show that the woman worked for a telephone answering and messaging service that served doctors, private practices and medical services in particular. She and another employee stole patients’ sensitive identifying data from the company’s files and used it to make fraudulent purchases on the patients’ credit cards.
What can you do?
Most people assume that if a trustworthy institution like a healthcare clinic asks you for your identifying information, you should give it to them. However, organizations can be legitimate and still suffer from poor security or dishonest employees. It’s important to remember that you’re in charge of protecting your own private data, because nobody else will care as much as you if you become a victim of id theft.
Here are some ways you can protect your identity:
- Don’t be afraid to ask: If you find yourself in a situation where an institution is asking for your identifying information, don’t be afraid to ask why it’s necessary for you to provide that data. For instance, hospitals and schools often ask for patients’ and students’ Social Security numbers on registration forms, but you have the option of omitting that information. Inquire whether it’s really crucial for you to write down your email address, home address, telephone number or Social Security number. If it is, ask about where your records will be stored and what kind of security standards are employed to keep files private. They’ll understand that it’s your responsibility to ask these kinds of questions, and if you’re dealing with a reputable institution they’ll have satisfactory answers for you.
- Keep your files locked away: Just as it’s important for organizations to keep your file in a safe place, it’s also crucial that you find a secure location for your sensitive documents. A private safe within your home is a good option for storing your Social Security card, passport, birth certificate and financial and insurance records, so if you ever do suffer a home intrusion you can rest assured that your identity has not been affected.
- Shred your documents: Criminals are always on the lookout for documents that have been thrown away, because they often contain extremely personal information. Gather all of those credit card offers and shred them immediately so they don’t fall into the wrong hands.
- Watch your health records: Keep an eye on your medical records and health insurance claims, since medical id theft is a prevalent problem these days. You should be aware that if a criminal uses your insurance to receive care, then your records could contain false health information that might potentially affect your future care. Check with your doctor to ensure that your chart is accurate and that your medical history has not been tampered with.
Completely preventing identity theft may not be possible, so the best thing you can do for yourself is to consistently follow secure practices to detect crimes as soon as possible. You may want to consider signing up for fraud protection services that can notify you to certain activities that may indicate fraud.