With all the talk about identity theft in the Tampa Bay area, Robert Scudder decided he wouldn't give out his Social Security number any longer.
"Everybody says, including Social Security, don't give it to anybody," Scudder said. "But yet everyone asks for it."
The decision meant he walked out of a recent appointment at a medical office, after he says a receptionist told him the doctor wouldn't bill his insurance without that number.
Scudder says he found another office to take him, and stands his ground on only giving out the last four digits of his number.
But the dilemma of whether to hand over that number continues to face patients and customers in the Bay area, and around the country, as personal information has become a target for thieves looking to make money off of stolen identities.
In some cases, employees have accessed patient data, selling that information or using it themselves for crimes such as tax refund fraud.
The Social Security Administration says employers and financial institutions need Social Security numbers for tax information, but it's up to individuals whether to disclose their numbers to anyone else. However, not giving them - as Scudder found out – can mean giving up service from some places.
The increased awareness of the identity theft crime – and its presence in the Bay area – has some businesses stepping up security measures.
At Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg, IT and HIPAA security manager Dave Summitt says the hospital started "masking" patient social security numbers within the past year so that they can't be immediately viewed. The information is tied to a patient's record and no one is able to print out a list of patients with their personal information, he said.
Summitt says he can track who sees the information, and gets a report every morning that will detail any suspected inappropriate access.
Summitt says in the two years he's been at the hospital, Bayfront has not had a data breach.
But he says he knows any facility can be targeted.
"Everybody's vulnerable. It doesn't matter what type of a company it is," he said. "Whether it's financial, healthcare, which is what we do, because the data is there. And if the data is there, there is someone wants that data and they will do everything they can to get that data."
Summitt said Bayfront needs Social Security numbers from Medicare and Medicaid patients, and asks for it from others to distinguish them in case of a duplicate name and birth date. If someone refuses to give their number, they can still get service, he said.
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