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UPMC: As many as 27,000 employees affected in data breach

| Thursday, April 17, 2014, 7:13 p.m.

The scope of an identity theft scheme at UPMC widened on Thursday as the health care giant confirmed personal information for as many as 27,000 workers might have been compromised.

New estimates released by UPMC show at least 788 workers fell victim to tax fraud in the ordeal, up from a March projection that as many as 322 employees might have been affected.

The data reveal more than a third of the roughly 62,000 people who work at the hospital system could be affected by the breach, which remains under federal investigation.

“We take this crime very seriously,” UPMC spokeswoman Gloria Kreps said late Thursday. “We alerted authorities immediately after we discovered and confirmed unauthorized access and have been putting our full resources behind efforts to investigate and secure our systems.”

Kreps said patient data remain safe as UPMC works with the Internal Revenue Service, Secret Service and other federal officials to identify the source of the problem. She said the open investigation limited how much detail she could share.

The updated numbers emerged as the hospital system issued an advisory letter this week to workers whose Social Security numbers and other details were compromised. The form letter from UPMC Vice President John P. Houston encourages affected workers to alert their banks and the Federal Trade Commission.

An FBI spokesman said the IRS, Secret Service and Postal Inspection Service are handling the matter. An IRS spokeswoman declined to comment, and the other two agencies did not return calls.

“We have had outstanding inter-agency cooperation,” said David J. Hickton, the U.S. attorney for Western Pennsylvania, in a prepared statement. He called the investigation complex but did not elaborate.

It's still unclear how someone stole tax information to file false federal returns. UPMC indicated in February that false returns appeared under the names of at least 22 workers.

In the new form letter, Houston encouraged affected workers to enroll in an identity-theft protection service at no charge to them. He advised them to alert the IRS and to contact a credit bureau, among other advice.

UPMC also established a payroll hot line and retained a tax firm to help workers complete IRS identity theft forms. The Downtown-based health system has offered to reimburse employees up to $400 to use their own accountants.

When a thief files a faulty tax return to claim someone else's refund, the victim can still retrieve his or her money by following an IRS process, according to the federal agency. Kreps couldn't say how many UPMC workers had retrieved stolen refunds.

A class-action lawsuit in Allegheny Common Pleas Court alleges UPMC was negligent in its management of sensitive information. The health system has emphasized identify theft is a common crime, with 1.6 million taxpayers affected by the offense in the first six months of 2013.

That's up from 271,000 for all of 2010, according to an audit by the Treasury Department's inspector general.

In Pittsburgh, Point Park University workers learned in March that their Social Security numbers, wage information and bank account numbers might have been released in a possible data breach.

Adam Smeltz a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5676 or asmeltz@tribweb.com. Luis Fábregas is the medical editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7998 or lfabregas@tribweb.com.

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