INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Indiana’s Professional Licensing Agency has announced sweeping changes to its online licensing system in an effort to better protect nurses – and other professionals – from identity theft.
The move follows an I-Team 8 investigation and a series of reports that exposed how easily the state’s online renewal system can be manipulated.
Previously, the state only required that users seeking to renew their professional licenses use a number assigned by the state and the last four digits of their Social Security number.
The new changes, revealed to I-Team 8 this week, include allowing users to create a unique password. They are also required to create a security question, according to Trent Fox, a spokesman for IPLA. The changes are fluid, Fox said, noting that they may become more conspicuous for certain professions before others based on when their licenses are up for renewal.
The change comes years after nurses like Holly Aumick have already been victimized.
Aumick says she warned IPLA of this issue back in 2013 but was told it was computer glitch.
Aumick’s nursing license and identity was stolen by Holly Whyde, a Columbus, Indiana, woman who federal prosecutors say “masqueraded” as a registered nurse in an effort to get a job at a Columbus rehabilitation center run by Kindred Healthcare. Federal prosecutors said Whyde did it to hide from her own criminal past.
Prosecutors argued that Whyde “focused her life on crime” and concocted a scheme in which she stole the nursing license of a registered nurse and used it to obtain a high-paying job as the director of nursing at a Columbus, Ind. rehabilitation facility where she earned more than $100,000 annually.
Prosecutors also allege that Whyde shared the same first and middle name as her victim, Holly Marie Aumick, and used that to her advantage by accessing the state’s professional licensing system online, changing Aumick’s personal information – including her address.
“I was just surprised, I was shocked. How did she do this? Why did she do this?” Holly Aumick said
In June, Whyde pleaded guilty to charges of aggravated identity theft and making false statements related to a health care matter. She was sentenced to two and a half years in federal prison.
But she’s not alone.
Federal prosecutors have also charged Ashley Johnson, an Indianapolis woman accused of stealing the nursing licenses and identities of two other nurses – both of whom are named Ashley Johnson.
Court records show even after being fired from one job after questions were raised about her identity, Johnson sought to use another nurse’s identity to gain a job at a north side Indianapolis nursing home. During her time there, there was a complaint about her patient care.
I-Team 8 asked for an on-camera interview with an IPLA administrator; we wanted to ask about why these changes took so long and what prompted these specific changes. Our request was denied. Previous requests for on-camera interviews have been denied as I-Team 8 has reported on other problems within the agency.
In an emailed response. Fox wrote:
The new process is open to every licensee under the umbrella of IPLA. Individuals now have the ability to create their own username to log in to the system. Additionally, they are now required to generate a security question unique to them. The agency respectfully denies your request for an on-camera interview, but certainly appreciates your time and effort in this matter. As I have mentioned before, the security of every licensee’s information is paramount and the agency is continuously reviewing ways to ensure such information is protected.
Lorie Brown, a registered nurse and attorney who often represents nurses facing disciplinary matters before IPLA, said I-Team 8’s reports likely spurred some of the change.
“I think your report exposed a lot of the things with the system that were wrong and that there was probably a lot of demand to have it changed,” Brown said. “When it does finally get changed for everybody it will be great because it will be not so easy to impersonate a nurse.”