Data theft poses risk to 30,000 in military service members in S. Ariz.


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AZTOY
December 28, 2002, 08:34 PM
Data theft poses risk to 30,000 in S. Ariz.


Tucson, AZ, 12.28.2002 - About 30,000 military service members and retirees in Southern Arizona - and up to 100,000 statewide - are at risk of having their credit ratings ruined by thieves who stole their personal data from a major government contractor in Phoenix.

TriWest Healthcare Alliance, a private firm that runs the Defense Department's TriCare HMO program for the military in 16 states, is in the process of notifying the tens of thousands of Arizonans whose confidential information was compromised during a Dec. 14 break-in.

Thieves made off with computer equipment and data files that contained plan beneficiaries' names and addresses, Social Security numbers, phone numbers, medical claims histories and, in some cases, credit card information.

Victims are urged to be on the lookout for suspicious financial transactions made in their names and to alert major credit reporting agencies to the theft of their personal data.

Close to half a million service people, dependents and retirees are affected across the firm's 16-state business area.

"This is a very, very serious matter and a crime committed against a group of people who are serving in the defense of freedom," said David McIntyre, president and CEO of TriWest.

Those affected are enrollees in the TriCare Prime and TriCare Prime Remote managed care plans.

They include active duty military members, their enrolled dependents and military retirees under age 65. Retirees over 65 are not affected.

McIntyre said the firm has no idea why the data files were stolen.

It could have been an act of corporate sabotage, or it could be that thieves sought the huge cache of data specifically to use it for fraudulent purposes, such as applying for credit cards under the names of military personnel, he said.

The crime is being treated as a massive case of identity theft so that victims can act quickly to protect themselves from negative effects on their credit histories, McIntyre said.

"If you have your identity stolen and you don't know about it for several months, it can take years to unravel the damage," he said.

The company has set up Web site links and a toll-free hot line for victims.

Thousands of local airmen may be affected, said a spokesman for Tucson's Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

"Most people at Davis-Monthan have the potential to be affected," said Tech Sgt. Brian Davidson, who learned Friday that his own Social Security number and medical history are among the stolen data.

Officials at Fort Huachuca Army post in Sierra Vista and at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Tucson couldn't say Friday how many people at their facilities might be affected.

TriWest officials said they were able to recover backup copies of the stolen data and are still able to process claims and conduct business.

The firm said security was improved after the break-in. Officials wouldn't say what security measures were in place at the time of the incident, citing the ongoing criminal probe.

The case is under investigation by the FBI and other military and civilian law enforcement agencies.

* Contact reporter Carol Ann Alaimo at 573-4138 or at
How to get help
* TriWest Healthcare offers several ways to get help or information.

The firm's toll-free help line is:
1-888-339-9378.

E-mail requests can be sent to computertheft@triwest.com. Detailed information is also posted on the company's Web site, www.triwest.com.
* TriWest recommends that victims contact the three major credit bureaus to request that fraud alerts be placed in their credit files.
Contact numbers for those credit reporting agencies are:

TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289.

Equifax Credit Information
Services: 1-800-525-6285.

Experian (Credit Data Southwest) 1-602-528-7785.

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