State agency reveals Social Security numbers

January 31, 2006

By Adam Wilson

The Health Care Authority inadvertently has sent postcards to 6,000 public employees with their Social Security numbers printed on them.

The Jan. 19 mailings could make the recipients more vulnerable to identity theft . if any thieves have recognized them for what they are.

The postcards reminded members of the state Uniform Medical Plan to have health screenings.

Included on the cards was a 12-digit code that some of the recipients recognized as their Social Security numbers plus three additional digits.

"It was something we had sent out in the mailing file, to the Department of Printing, but was never intended to show up on the label," said Health Care Authority spokeswoman Michelle George. "It's regrettable that this happened, and we're working with the Department of Printing to make sure it doesn.t happen again."

She explained that the extra three digits in the series made up the Health Care Authority.s agency code, and both the Social Security numbers and the code were included in the information packet provided to the state printers.

George said a new mailing will be sent to clients apologizing for the error.

Steve Larsen, an assistant attorney general in the state.s consumer protection division, said the mailing is a concern.

Identity thieves take private data that can be used to defraud people, often to take out credit cards in the victim.s name.

Larsen said the thieves, who sometimes break into mailboxes looking for information, could easily overlook a Social Security number hidden in a longer code, especially because the 12-digit code did not include the familiar dashes used in Social Security numbers.

But he added that he likely will be in contact with the agency to discuss the matter. George said the postcards were the first of their kind to be mailed to Uniform Medical Plan recipients.

The Uniform Medical Plan is a health insurance program used by 150,000 state employees, retirees and other public employees in local government and education.

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