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December 19, 2013 at 8:51 PM

DSHS sends personal info to wrong households

The personal information of up to 7,000 households receiving assistance from the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) was sent in error to incorrect or old addresses, according the state Economic Services Administration (ESA).

The administration confirmed in a news statement released Thursday that the private information of at least 2,600 and possibly up to 7,000 client households may have been compromised when a coding error caused letters to be mailed to  previous addresses.

The letters were mailed between Aug. 19 and Oct. 26 when the error was discovered and corrected, according to the state.

ESA said the majority of the letters contained the client’s name, address and identification number. Some, however, may have also included home phone numbers, contact information, date of birth, Social Security number, medical diagnosis or disability, other medical, chemical dependency or treatment information, employment or earnings information, and what public-assistance services the client was receiving.

Administration officials said it was not known whether current residents accessed the letters or if the information was used for identity theft.

“Even a single mistake that could wrongly disclose personal information is one too many,” said David Stillman, assistant secretary for ESA. “We will respond to this by improving our production-oversight processes.”

According to ESA, the letters were sent in envelopes marked “Return Service Requested,” requiring the Postal Service to return them to ESA if the person named no longer lived at that address. It is unknown precisely how many letters were returned.

The ESA has 1.5 million clients and sends approximately 9.2 million pieces of mail each year.

The administration said all affected clients are being notified of the breach and will be further contacted if it’s learned their credit or identity are at risk.

Additional public information regarding this issue will be posted on the Department’s website.
Clients also can contact the Economic Services Administration’s Community Services Division Customer Service Contact Center at 1-877-501-2233 or email at esaprivacy@DSHS.wa.gov.  Letters requesting more information can be sent to PO Box 45857 Olympia, WA 98504-5857.

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