By Tamas Mondovics
The U.S. Postal Service handles more than 668 million pieces of mail every day, and while the vast majority of it arrives intact, unfortunately thieves get to some of it before or after delivery.
Such was the case last month in Riverview as at least 100 residents woke up Christmas morning to find that their mail had been tampered with or taken.
According to Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office deputies, in some cases, dozens of pieces of mail, including some Christmas cards and letters, were scattered on the lawns of homes in several subdivisions.
By early morning, deputies began responding to calls about the discarded mail in the Boyette Farms, Rivercrest, Tucker Rd. and Summerfield neighborhoods.
Further reports revealed that HCSO deputies began collecting the mail and returning it to the homeowners, while in one case, mail was shoved into another neighbor’s mailbox.
Concern over the theft and apparent vandalism grew as a number of pieces of mail were found opened as evidenced by torn envelopes.
Deputies returned much of the mail, but part of what they collected was turned over to the postmaster to be delivered back to the homes.
In addition, there were eight mailboxes knocked over on Lincoln Rd., however, deputies were unsure if it was connected to the mail tampering, and are investigating it as a related incident.
The incident, although confined to the Riverview area, prompted many to revisit the concern over the much-talked-about and worrisome trend of identity theft.
In recent times, the topic of medical identity theft has also worried many, as a thief who steals someone’s personal, insurance or medical information can use it to illegally obtain or pay for healthcare treatments, buy prescription drugs, have elective surgeries, or submit false insurance claims in that person’s name.
In its monthly newsletter, the Hillsborough County Consumer Protection Agency emphasized that medical identity theft can have a serious impact on an individual’s personal, financial and medical well-being, including any medical treatments received if the false information winds up on their medical records.
To help identify when one is a victim, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) wants residents to consider such scenarios as:
Getting a bill for medical services one didn’t receive or a debt collector contacting a person about medical debt they don’t owe.
One may order a copy of his or her credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com, or by calling 1-877-322-8228. They may also possibly see medical collection notices that they don’t recognize.
Perhaps some might try to make a legitimate insurance claim, but their health plan says that they have reached their benefits limit, or a person is denied insurance because his or her medical records show a condition they don’t have.
To avoid being a victim, residents are urged to pay close attention to their medical, insurance and financial records in order to spot discrepancies and possible fraud.
Keep detailed records of all medical services received and request copies in writing from each provider, including doctors, clinics, hospitals, pharmacies, laboratories and health plans. Providers should produce your documents within 30 days.
Filing a complaint with the FTC at http://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov or by phone at 1-877-438-4338 is also on the list of suggestions, along with filing a police report and sending copies of the report to a health plan’s fraud department, health care providers, and the three nationwide credit reporting companies.
TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289; http://www.transunion.com/; Equifax: 1-800-525-6285, www.equifax.com; Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742), www.experian.com.
After placing a fraud alert with one of the credit reporting companies, it is required to contact the others who will place an alert on their report.
It is also encouraged to learn how to freeze your credit by visiting the County’s Consumer Protection website and clicking on Consumer Topics – Protect Yourself Against Identity Theft – Freezing Your Credit.
Freezing a credit file can prevent thieves from opening new credit accounts under that name.
According to Kevin Jackson of the Hillsborough County Consumer Agency, residents should become familiar with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule, which gives consumers the right to copies of their records that are maintained by health plans and medical providers covered by that law.
“HIPAA provides consumers the right to have errors corrected in their medical and billing records,” Jackson said.
HCSO detective and spokesperson, Larry McKinnon, acknowledged that the Riverview area mail theft incident does cause concern over identity theft and said that as the investigation continues, deputies are working closely with the U.S. Postal Service and are asking if anyone living in the Riverview area has home surveillance video that might be helpful, to give them a call at 247-8200.