BERKELEY -- A Florida woman stole the names, Social Security numbers and birth dates of at least 931 Berkeley patients who rode in city ambulances and may have used the information to file fraudulent federal tax returns, officials said Friday.
The woman worked for Intermedix of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., which does ambulance billing for Berkeley and about 300 other cities and ambulance companies across the country, a spokeswoman said. She was arrested Oct. 2, the spokeswoman said.
"Essentially what happened was there was an employee in their office in Tampa, Fla., who had accessed patient information and provided it to a group who has allegedly used it to file fraudulent income tax returns," Berkeley fire Chief Debra Pryor said Friday.
Intermedix is now sending letters to those Berkeley patients, telling them their information was taken and is offering them a year's worth of free credit monitoring, Pryor said.
Lisa MacKenzie, a spokeswoman for Intermedix, said the woman also took information from people who rode in ambulances in the California cities of Los Angeles, El Centro and Corona, but she did not know how many patients in those cities were affected. She said Intermedix has 1,300 employees.
Neither Pryor nor the company spokeswoman could say when the thefts occurred.
MacKenzie said her company was notified of the theft by the Internal Revenue Service and that the stolen information was being used by others to file
"The employee was arrested and charged but not convicted," MacKenzie said. "And she is collaborating with authorities. In terms of us doing the right thing, all the patients need to be notified that the information was improperly disclosed and illegally accessed."
MacKenzie stressed that although names, birth dates and Social Security numbers were stolen, patients' medical information was not. When medical information such as insurance and health information is stolen, thieves can use it to get medical treatment posing as the victim, she said.
Pryor said she heard about the theft from Intermedix.
"We notified an initial wave of 168 patients, and additional 763 have a notification forthcoming from Intermedix," Pryor said.
Pryor said it is standard operating procedure for Berkeley paramedics to collect the names, birth dates and Social Security numbers of people it transports by ambulance for billing purposes.
In urging the City Council to approve a low-bid, two-year contract for $400,000 with Intermedix in February, Pryor said the company "has a proven track record" and also has contracts with Alameda County Emergency Medical Services as well as several other fire and paramedic providers in the county. The city has contracted out its ambulance billing services since 1987.
Pryor said anyone who has questions about the theft of the names can call the city's customer information line at 510-981-2489, Intermedix at 877-264-9622 or visit www.myidcare.com/intersecurity.
Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley.