The last thing you expect when entering an ambulance is that someone can access your records and commit fraud against the federal government using your personal information. Usually the sound of paramedic talk, medicine and the hope to heal quickly drowns the thought of fraudsters taking advantage of you in such a helpless position. According to a Los Angeles Times article, one California man may be looking at some hefty charges, as he’s been accused of doing the unthinkable.
Amidst a budget crisis in 2010, the city moved to utilize a private company to handle ambulance billing for the Los Angeles Fire and Rescue Department (LAFD). While the decision was challenged, city officials defended the change at the time by explaining it would help budget issues, and would make the private company liable for any breaches of contract. The city signed a six-year agreement with a private company, earning five percent of the net revenue collected from patient transportation in LAFD ambulances. The article reports that city officials are now investigating whether an employee within that billing company utilized the records to submit false tax returns to the U.S. government. (If true, that is so wrong…)
While no individual has been convicted of this crime, there is suspicion that an employee from the billing company gained access to the files of the ambulance patients and used patients’ personal information to submit false tax return claims. (Talk about easy access to records.) The LAFD has begun informing patients who rode in the ambulances about the possible fraud scandal, prompting them to check with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to see if any claims were made in their name. (Don’t forget about the 50 state revenue departments targeted by fraudsters every day.) So far, only 26 letters of notification have been sent out, while investigators believe that nearly 900 people could be victim to this possible scandal. (Someone better invest in a large amount of stamps.)
Here, two wrongs may have been committed. The first wrong is against the taxpayers who may be impacted by any tax refund fraud that might have been committed using their personal information. The second wrong is in regards to the fire and rescue personnel – individuals who, whether volunteer or paid, put their lives on the line to help others in need. If fraud was perpetrated in this case, it unfairly tarnishes the image of these dedicated public servants. If someone is convicted of fraud in this case, perhaps the fraudster can catch a ride to the courthouse. (Wonder how eager they would be to hand over their personal information?)