More than 16 years ago, when I first testified before the United States Congress about the underground market for stolen personal information and identity theft, I warned that the medical records of Americans were one of the categories of personal information at risk and that the risk would grow.
There were those who scoffed at my testimony.
But as history has proven, I was correct when I sounded an early alarm.
I say “early” because for a number of years after my testimony the theft of medical records was not as prolific as the theft of purely financial records from banks and merchants.
But over time, as I warned, identity thieves increasingly went after medical records as a source of both personal medical and financial information. The problem has become so severe that last year more than 1.8 million Americans were victims of medical identity theft.
This week, an investigative report by Brian Krebs exposed just how active the black market for stolen medical records is and proved that medical records of Americans are at as much risk as financial records.
I want to share with you some of the most pertinent information from Krebs’ report and remind you of an earlier advisory I authored about how to initiate a credit security freeze on your credit bureau files as the best method of stopping damage from identity thieves.
Krebs’ report, “Medical Records for Sale in Underground Stolen from Texas Life Insurance Firm,” points out:
–“KrebsOnSecurity discovered medical records being sold in bulk for as little as $6.40 apiece. The digital documents, several of which were obtained by sources working with this publication, were apparently stolen from a Texas-based life insurance company that now says it is working with federal authorities on an investigation into a possible data breach.”
–“Purloined medical records are among the many illicit goods for sale on the Evolution Market, a black market bazaar that traffics mostly in narcotics and fraud-related goods — including plenty of stolen financial data.”
–“A reader alerted this author [Krebs] to a merchant on Evolution Market nicknamed “ImperialRussia” who was advertising medical records for sale. ImperialRussia was hawking his goods as “fullz” — street slang for a package of all the personal and financial records that thieves would need to fraudulently open up new lines of credit in a person’s name.” [Emphasis added]
–“Each document for sale by this seller includes the would-be identity theft victim’s name, their medical history, address, phone and driver license number, Social Security number, date of birth, bank name, routing number and checking/savings account number.” [Emphasis added]
–“More than 1.8 million people were victims of medical ID theft in 2013, according to a report from the Ponemon Institute, an independent research group. I suspect that many of these folks had their medical records stolen and used to open new lines of credit in their names, or to conduct tax refund fraud with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).” [Emphasis added]
–“Placing a fraud alert or freeze on your credit file is a great way to block identity thieves from hijacking your good name.” [Emphasis added]
Some of you may recall (and hopefully took action) that back in March I sent you an advisory on using credit security freezes to prevent identity thieves from opening credit accounts with your personal information. That advisory on using credit security freezes is also available on the second page of the April 2014 edition of the Self-Reliance Institute Newsletter.
Please use that link for details, but as a reminder here are a few highlights when it comes to credit security freezes along with links to the resources you’ll need:
–“Perhaps the single best way to protect against an identity thief opening a new credit account in your name is to place a credit freeze on your credit files with all three major credit bureaus. Credit freezes are often called security freezes by the three major credit bureaus.”
–“By placing a credit freeze on your credit files at all three major credit bureaus, you maintain control over who can access your credit report and when, thereby blocking identity thieves from using your name and credit to open fraudulent credit accounts that will harm you and your credit profile.”
–“When you place a credit freeze on your credit files, you will either select or be provided a password or PIN (personal identification number) so that you can temporarily remove the credit freeze when you want to add a new credit account to your credit file. Be sure to maintain this password or PIN in a secure location so that it will be available when you need to temporarily lift the credit freeze.”
–“The three major credit bureaus are Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. To learn more about placing a credit freeze (also called security freezes) with each of the three major credit bureaus please click on each of the following links:
–“For additional information about credit freezes, check the Consumers Union’s Guide to Security Freeze Protection. It includes a state by state listing of how credit/security freezes work for individual states.”
–“The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is also a good resource for additional information about Extended Fraud Alerts and Credit Freezes.”
Bottom line: In light of Krebs’ blockbuster revelation of the underground sale of medical records combined with the stark reality that millions of Americans have already had their medical records stolen in recent years, as self-reliant individuals we must take steps to protect ourselves and our families.
The best step I can recommend is to place a credit security freeze on your credit file with all three major credit bureaus as a means of stopping the most harmful damage that can result from identity theft.
As always, you can share your thoughts with me at[email protected]
Be safe, secure and free,
Rob Douglas – Former Washington DC Private Detective, Information Security Consultant and Certified Identity Theft Risk Management Specialist