Saturday, March 10, 2007

Connecticut Facilities contributing to Identity Theft

CONNECTICUT NEWS

Our I.D., Their Trash

Sensitive Records Turn Up In Ohio
March 10, 2007
By DANIEL P. JONES And KATIE MELONE, Courant Staff Writers
Papers with sensitive information about Connecticut residents - Social Security numbers, medical records, names, phone numbers, addresses and bank records began blowing from an Ohio landfill onto nearby homeowner Harry Evans' yard months ago.

At first he just picked up the litter - dozens of papers in all - and threw it away. But about a week ago, Evans says, he talked with his wife about the personal nature of some of the windblown papers and decided he'd had enough. He called the local media. Soon, newspaper and TV reporters descended on his home in Negley.

He lives in Negley, in eastern Ohio, close to the Pennsylvania border, along a rail line that has been bringing train loads of waste from at least two Northeast states, Connecticut and New Jersey, to a siding at a Total Waste Logistics landfill next to his house and his adjacent truck garage.

"You can't believe the stuff that I've thrown away. I've talked to them down there [at the landfill] but they just basically told me to get scrubbed," Evans said in a telephone interview Friday. "When you get into personal things, you know anybody who wanted to commit identity theft, all they'd have to do is walk along the tracks and pick up the papers."

Jerry Weber, an Ohio Environmental Protection Agency official who monitors the landfill, did not return a call Friday. A call to Total Waste Logistics was not returned.

Such security breaches are not rare, says Marc Rotenberg, executive director of Electronic Privacy Information Center, a Washington, D.C.-based group that advocates for privacy. "I think the key point in a lot of these instances is that information was maintained that probably shouldn't have been collected or should have been destroyed."

The papers, for example, include a surgical evaluation form concerning an East Haven patient's "bone density" diagnostic imaging procedure performed by "Yale Diag Imaging." The form, filled out in June 2002, includes the patient's name, home phone number, Social Security number, address, date of birth, and insurance identification number.

Another paper that blew into Evans' yard: an Oxford Health insurance patient claim form confirming payment to a New Haven-based gynecology group. The form, dated July 1, 1999, includes the patient's name, her doctor's name, and identification and account numbers.

"It's bizarre because we shred everything," said Tina D'Amico, the practice administrator at County Obstetrics & Gynecology. D'Amico said a copy of such a form would be routinely sent by the insurance company to the doctor and the patient. D'Amico said County Obstetrics & Gynecology has been shredding medical records for years, and in 2003 hired a company to perform the task because of the volume of records. "There are so many places this could've come from," she said.

Maria Gordon-Shydlo, a spokesman for UnitedHealth Group, which owns Oxford, said that the company takes the matter "very seriously" and would investigate immediately.

The presence of the papers at the Negley landfill is possibly the result of an unloading zone where solid waste such as paper is separated from demolition and construction debris, the only waste the landfill is approved to accept.

Evans, a 69-year-old semi-retired truck driver and truck repairman, said his house and garage are about 800 to 1,000 feet from where a crane unloads waste from rail cars when they arrive at the landfill. His yard, he says, is downwind from the operation, and the papers have blown onto his property almost daily since the operation began a couple of years ago.

It's not unusual for some of Connecticut's trash to find its way to disposal sites in other states, although most waste from Connecticut towns is committed by contract for disposal at one of several in-state trash-to-energy plants, according to state environmental officials and industry representatives.

Disposal facilities like the one in Ohio are supposed to keep the waste that arrives contained, according to Michael Paine, president of East Granby-based Paine's Inc. and chairman of the Connecticut chapter of the National Solid Waste Association. Such facilities should have a plan for controlling litter and some kind of fence, he said.

Based on the descriptions of the waste provided by The Courant, Paine said his guess is that the papers Evans found in Ohio came from trash picked up at commercial facilities as opposed to residential trash. But there's no way to be sure, he said.

Health care providers are required by state law to dispose of records in a way that renders them unrecognizable and maintains patients' confidentiality, said William Gerrish, a spokesman for the state Department of Public Health. The department can take disciplinary action if those requirements are not met, he said. There are federal rules that also govern the disposal of health-related records to ensure confidentiality, Gerrish said.

And the vast majority of doctors shred documents as a routine practice, said Angelo Carrabba, a physician and the president of the Connecticut State Medical Society.

Paine advised caution when disposing of confidential paperwork at home. "I rip up the envelopes that I don't want, and I very often create a bucket of stuff that I want to get shredded." He sometimes uses a shredder and other times uses the papers to start a fire in his fireplace.

Contact Daniel P. Jones at dpjones@courant.com.

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