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Express Scripts receives extortion threat

WASHINGTON – Express Scripts said Thursday it has received a letter demanding money from the company under the threat of exposing records of millions of patients.

The threat was made in an anonymous letter that the company turned over to federal investigators. The letter, received in early October, included personal information on 75 people covered by Express Scripts, including birth dates, social security numbers and prescription information.

Express manages prescription benefits for roughly 50 million people through thousands of clients, including health insurers, employers and union-sponsored plans.

A company spokesman said Express waited to reveal the breach “to give the investigation time to proceed and get under way.”

“We believe informing the public now was the appropriate time to do so under the circumstances,” said spokesman Steve Littlejohn.

Littlejohn said the company alerted customers whose information appeared in the letter but does not know whether additional information has been exposed. Generally, companies are only legally obligated to contact customers when they are certain their information exposed.

The company has set up a Web site for beneficiaries about the incident at: http://www.esisupports.com

According to the site, company staff believe they have identified the area where the data was stored and “have instituted enhanced controls.”

The company said it has not received any reports of identity theft associated with the problem.

“We are cooperating with the FBI and are committed to doing what we can to protect our members’ personal information and to track down the person or persons responsible for this criminal act,” company Chief Executive George Paz said.

Earlier this year 11 people were indicted for allegedly stealing 41 million credit and debit card numbers. The case — believed to be the largest identity theft on record — involved hacking into wireless computer networks of BJ’s Wholesale Club, Barnes & Noble, and other retailers.

Express Scripts shares fell $3.5, or 5.66 percent, to $58.34 in afternoon trading on a day in which the Dow Jones industrial average fell nearly 5 percent.

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