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Dale Dixon: Your physician’s office may be ripe for ID theft

“Please complete this paperwork while you wait for the doctor. Oh, and please be sure to give us your Social Security number,” the receptionist said.

Sound familiar? It’s happened to me, and it’s cringe-worthy as I stand at the counter looking at a wall full of medical files.

I actually confronted my dentist, a good friend whom I respect, about his wall full of patient files. All it takes is a brief moment of inattention in the presence of an identity thief looking for opportunity and the office has a major liability on its hands.

Whenever I’m asked for my Social Security number, I have one question to ask: “How do I know my information is 100 percent safe with you?” It’s a trick question. Anybody who says, “Oh, you have nothing to worry about, your information is safe with us,” is clueless to the real world.

Here are two real-world facts: According to the Ponemon Institute, which studies privacy and data protection, “Criminal attacks are up 125 percent compared to five years ago, replacing lost laptops as the leading threat [to medical identity theft].”

While 2015 numbers are yet to be released, the Identify Theft Resource Center writes, “Continuing a three-year trend, breaches in the medical/health care industry topped the ITRC 2014 Breach List with 42.5 percent of the breaches identified in 2014.”

If you work in a medical office, when is the last time you took a hard look at your security and data-safety systems?

If everyone in the office isn’t educated and able to answer my trick question with real facts about your process, you’re setting yourself up to be part of the medical ID theft problem — and another statistic.

Keeping a patient’s information safe and secure should be as important as the care the patient receives in the exam room. There’s never a 100 percent sure way to secure that information, but there is a 100 percent sure way to lose it: take security for granted.

If you’re in the medical community and find yourself offended by my directness on this topic, good. That means you have some work to do.

The Better Business Bureau is here to help. Visit our partner website, https://staysafeonline.org. Or, buy donuts and coffee for your staff and invite me or the BBB’s Emily Valla for a 20-minute presentation on being more secure.

Dale Dixon is chief innovation officer for Better Business Bureau Northwest. 342-4649, dale.dixon@thebbb.org. This column appears in the March 16-April 19, 2016, edition of the Idaho Statesman’s Business Insider magazine as part of a special section on the business of health.

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