UnitedHealthcare insider charged in Cal data theft

A former UnitedHealthcare employee has been charged with stealing customer data in connection with a rash of identity thefts at the University of California, Irvine.

Mike Tyrone Thomas Jr., 27, was arrested at his Fort Worth, Texas, home on July 7 and now faces a fraud charge in connection with a scam that hit 163 students enrolled in the university's Graduate Student Health Insurance Program. He also faces a charge of aggravated assault relating to a November 2007 incident, although it was unclear if the charges are related.

Thomas accessed the customer data, which he was not authorized to see, in late October, according to authorities. In February, U.C. Irvine graduate students started noticing that their 2007 tax returns had already been filed by someone else, apparently in the hope of collecting their tax refund checks.

At the time he allegedly accessed the data, Thomas was working for UnitedHealthcare's student resources department, a division of its Dallas group, said U.C. Irvine campus police chief Paul Henisey. He didn't know if other UnitedHealthcare customers were affected by the breach but said it's a possibility. The problem of falsified tax returns is a nationwide one and the U.S. Inland Revenue Service is investigating it, Henisey said. "I'm only assuming that the case is much bigger than our 163 graduate students," he said.

UnitedHealthcare doesn't think other customers were affected, a company spokeswoman said via e-mail. "We are outraged that a former employee may have illegally accessed information regarding certain University of California Irvine students and may have used the information for criminal purposes," she said.

Based in Minnetonka, Minnesota, UnitedHealthcare is one of the largest health care service providers in the United States.

The company has notified the 1,100 students who had their data accessed and is offering them identity theft protection services, the spokeswoman said.

With 130 million U.S. households receiving federal economic stimulus checks, scammers have been particularly aggressive this year, the IRS says.

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