Florida Mental Health Patients Hit By ID Thefts

Florida Mental Health Patients Hit By ID Thefts

The risk of identity theft every time you enter a health clinic is well documented. Medical identity theft has been estimated to cost the US over $7 billion annually but the odds jump up if you’re not quite able to watch your data—due to serious illness or even a mental health crisis. If you live in Florida—the nation’s hotbed of ID theft—that risk jumps up again. Then add a rogue employee to the equation and you have a recipe for some serious fraud.

That’s the reality for over 1,000 residents of South Florida State Hospital (SFSH) in Pembroke Pines near West Palm Beach in southeastern Florida. Last night, The Sun-Sentinel reported that a veteran employee of the hospital Curtis Fullwood, 57, and his cousin, Terri Davis, 45, have been charged with stealing hundreds of identities from individuals committed for psychiatric issues.

While SFSH is a state hospital, GEO Care LLC, a private company has run it since 1998. The company website description of the average patient makes it clear these individuals are unlikely to notice identity theft very quickly.

“The mission of the facility is to empower the persons served to acquire and use the skills and supports necessary to achieve maximum independence, success and satisfaction in the environment of their choice. The population consists primarily of severely and persistently mentally ill adults who are involuntarily committed to the hospital when community treatment alternatives are no longer effective.”

Fullwood’s job was to help residents find a job of their own. When the FBI investigators closed in, he and Davis reportedly had personally identifiable information (PII) on 1,000 clients admitted to the hospital. It is believed the duo was using the Social Security numbers (SSN) obtained to file fraudulent tax returns. Fullwood had worked at the facility for 11 years.

The 335-bed facility was the first in the nation to be completely privatized. GEO points to a high rate of discharge—a commendable achievement but also an indicator of an increased volume of patient records to protect. GEO’s offices have had little comment since the case hit the news because the FBI investigation is still ongoing.

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