Shred Alert: Confidential Records Thrown Out Like Yesterday’s Garbage

By: In: Secure Shredding On: May 10, 2012
Shred Alert: Confidential Records Thrown Out Like Yesterday’s Garbage

The last time we checked in with a Shred Alert, a hospital’s records were found blowing in the breeze in a neighborhood field. This time, the records didn’t get quite so far. Unfortunately they still ended up somewhere they should never be: a trash can.

Throwing away records with confidential information simply isn’t good enough these days considering how quickly an opportunistic identity thief can compromise credit histories – or something far worse. Still, accidents happen and some people just don’t realize the implications of tossing paper in the garbage.

What Happened

A regional TV station reported that boxes full of confidential health records were found stashed in a trash bin nearby. A local citizen told the station’s news team that he came across the records when he was throwing out some garbage of his own.

Included in the records were medical conditions and treatments, names, addresses, phone numbers and Social Security numbers of patients. In other words, it was a treasure trove for identity thieves.

Fortunately, all he had in mind was to get the word out about this shining example of document destruction oversights.

It turned out the records belonged to a medical clinic that shut its doors after losing its contract with the state in September 2011. Contacted by  reporters, the former owner of the clinic said the records must have ended up in the trash after he failed to pay the rent on a storage units and its contents were auctioned off.

Why It’s Bad

With incidents such as this, one must first think about the identity theft implications of having such information exposed. Aside from presenting a potential threat to a patients financial or physical security, medical records contain an added layer of risk.

For example, details of pre-existing conditions could impact a person while searching for a job as a result of the stigma that continues to be attached to certain conditions. Revelations related to mental illness, for example, can have a dramatic effect on someone’s personal and professional lives.

How to Avoid It

The best way to avoid similar situations is to follow the guidelines and requirements of industry best practices and legal regulations. In basic terms, all medical facilities must implement a wide-reaching shredding program to properly and completely destroy records.

This can be carried out on premise, which may be tedious and burdensome to existing employees, or outsourced to a third-party shredding services provider.


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About the author

John Willoughby

John Willoughby joined Iron Mountain in 2011 and serves as the company’s solutions marketing manager for Secure Shredding and Technology Escrow Services. A former Iron Mountain customer himself, he is focused on helping our customers reduce risk to their organization while improving efficiency and driving sustainability. John comes to Iron Mountain from Center Marketing, a consulting company providing B2B marketing services, where he specialized in product and company launch programs Prior to that he has held a variety of marketing management positions at technology companies including Carbon Design Systems, Gryphon Networks, and Cadence. John received a BSEE with high honors from Worcester Polytechnic Institute. His graduate studies are focused on marketing psychology and he is the published author of articles on marketing strategies to create customer value.