Magazine mailing exposes thousands of Social Security numbers

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

PHOENIX -- At least 50,000 Arizonans had their private information compromised when Banner Health included Medicare and Social Security numbers on the back covers of magazines.

A spokesman for the hospital apologized for the security breach Tuesday.

"We are very sorry," said Bill Byron, vice president of public relations. "We still are looking into exactly how this occurred. We’ve done a lot of mailings and not had a problem similar to this."

The magazine Smart & Healthy is mailed to approximately 50,000 Medicare patients several times a year.

On the fifth mailing of the publication, receivers' Medicare numbers were printed next to their names and addresses.

Byron said, in most cases, Medicare numbers are the same as Social Security numbers.

Banner Health is planning to issue a letter to people who had their information compromised.

Byron said the letter, which is expected to be mailed on Wednesday, will offer an apology, promises of an investigation, assurances the hospital is working to ensure a breach will not happen again, and information on whom to contact if recipients are concerned about identity theft or fraud.

Byron said he believes the risk of fraud is low because the magazines went directly to the mailboxes of the people who were exposed.

Felicia Thompson at the Better Business Bureau suggests people contact a credit reporting agency immediately and ask for a fraud alert to be placed on the account if their Social Security numbers were publicly exposed. Thompson said that agency will notify the other two credit bureaus.