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The Green Sheet Online Edition

June 07, 2007 • Issue 07:06:01

Who's messing with our meds?

By Steve Schwimmer
Renaissance Merchant Services

A growing trend among data thieves involves information derived from discarded medicine bottles and receipts. As improbable as this might seem, medicine vials and the paperwork that comes with them contain enough information for criminals to steal patients' identities and illegally access medical services.

Pill bottles are easy to spot. And fraudsters who find them are wreaking havoc. Because this is a relatively new phenomenon, it is happening under the radar. It comes as a shock to most people when it happens to them.

The malady

Thieves use prescription-related information several ways:

  • To obtain medications for people who cannot get them legally
  • To procure drugs to fuel the underground prescription drug trade
  • To access medical services fraudulently
  • To bill insurance companies for services that insured patients never received.

This can adversely affect victims' medical coverage and negatively impact the delivery of life-saving services they might one day need. Another chilling point is that this type of medical fraud can go undetected for years.

The cure

All health care professionals and support staff with access to patient files need to be aware of this growing crime and take steps to safeguard patients' data.

And the general public must be informed that criminals look through garbage, not just for financial information, but also for medical records.

How do we, as ISOs and merchant level salespeople (MLSs), help? Through education. To be effective, we must be well-versed on the issues _ from theft of medical services to fraudulent billing practices.

We must encourage our clients in the medical field to dialogue with patients and provide suggestions for safeguarding information. (Helping this process can also strengthen our ties with customers and thus foster account retention.)

Following are steps health care professionals can take to help keep sensitive data out of the wrong hands:

  • Send patients letters and pamphlets that explain the growing trends in theft of medical data.
  • Instruct patients to treat information on medical receipts and pill bottles as confidential personal data.
  • Take all labels off bottles prior to their disposal.
  • Shred all labels as well as papers that pharmacies include with prescriptions. They contain codes and other information that can be traced to patients.

Opportunities to acquire merchant accounts in the health care arena are increasing. If we help this expanding client base iron out this wrinkle, we'll be doing a good deed, while also building our businesses.

Together we have the potential to shut down a percentage of this thievery. Let's do it. end of article

Steve Schwimmer is President of the National Association of Payment Professionals. He has been serving the payment processing industry since 1991 and is the Long Island Director of Sales for Renaissance Merchant Services. Call him at 516-746-6363 or e-mail him at thevisaguy@516phoneme.com.

Notice to readers: These are archived articles. Contact names or information may be out of date. We regret any inconvenience.

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