Trashed Identity

November 25, 2003 - Posted at 11:00pm

JONESBORO, AR -- You might think your mailbox is the most vulnerable target when it comes to identity theft, but what about your doctor's office? More specifically the trash dumpster behind it.

Federal guidelines have been put into place to help keep Americans' personal medical information private. It's called the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, better known as HIPAA. It went into effect April 1, 2003.

The rules require healthcare workers to shred all documents containing patient information, such as name, address, social security number, birthdate and medical history, among other items. However, a recent search of about 40 randomly selected outside garbage containers revealed not all facilities are abiding by the law. It's a violation for healthcare facilities, and poor business practice for other companies. In all, sensitive information was found in 6 dumpsters.

We found a copy of Richard Curtwright's insurance card at a children's clinic.

"Just the fact that, you know, somebody that wants to go through a little effort of digging around in the trash or doing some hunting, and they've got a little intelligence to go with it to really know how to work a computer, they could put some hurt on you with this," said Curtwright.

No representatives from any of the businesses where we found information would talk on camera, but instead issued similar general statements. They said they do have privacy policies and shredding procedures in place, and they aren't sure how the personal information got in the garbage, but they would check into it.