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Any type of identity theft is serious, but medical identity theft, perhaps, has the highest potential to devastate your life. Your personal medical information when stolen might not just ruin your credit but could result in false medical records that threaten your life, too.
According to Debt.com, 27% of data breaches are related to electronic medical records, and the number of medical ID theft cases continues to rise. Unfortunately, most victims of medical identity theft never become satisfied with how their case is resolved, either.
Most people don’t think about medical identity theft or how a medical data breach could lead to identity fraud. However, failing to think about it means you are likely not protected. Here is a closer look at medical identity theft, how it happens, and some dos and don’ts to help you prevent it.
What is Medical Identity Theft?
Medical identity theft refers to a type of identity theft that happens when someone uses your health insurance number, name, social security number, and other personal information to purchase medical products or get medical services.
Some examples of medical identity theft may include:
- Someone using personally identifiable information to buy medical equipment or medicines.
- An individual using your personal information to have medical procedures – like tests or surgeries and sending the bill to your insurance provider
- A healthcare provider taking a patient’s personal information and using it to file fraudulent health insurance claims
- Unknown items present on the list of benefits provided by insurance
- Questions that seem out of the ordinary when visiting a doctor’s office or hospital
- Incorrect information on medical forms such as the wrong birthday
Just like other types of identity theft, it is confusing, costly, and time-consuming to deal with repercussions. Medical identity theft also proves more dangerous than other types of identity fraud because it may result in medical record errors.
Just think of being rushed to the emergency room, only to have the wrong type of blood listed on your medical records or having your medical record fail to show your allergies. It’s even possible to be denied treatment or coverage because of fraud.
How Does Medical Identity Theft Happen?
So how does medical theft happen? It may happen if someone steals your information physically, such as taking medical records you threw away or taking your wallet containing your health insurance card. In many cases, the thief maybe someone you know, too.
It’s also possible for medical identity theft to occur due to a data breach. This occurs when hackers steal information from medical providers or insurance companies. Medical records often pose a more alluring target than financial accounts since they offer more personal information and bring a hefty price on the dark web.
According to Medical Identity Fraud Alliance Senior VP and Program Director Ann Patterson, medical identity theft is currently booming since the information is so marketable and profitable, and it even sells for more than financial records alone.
How to Prevent Medical Identity Theft: Essential Do’s and Don’ts
It is nearly impossible to keep all your medical information completely secure. However, taking a few preventive measures keeps you better protected and makes it easier to recover if it does happen. Some essential dos and don’ts to follow include:
- Be sure to read and review notices from doctors, insurance providers, pharmacies, and labs to look for unusual activity
- Shred old health documents that contain personal information
- Check your medical records annually
- Keep copies of medical records to prove correct information
- Ask insurers annually for a list of benefits that were paid in your name
- Check credit reports regularly. You are entitled to a free report from Experian, Equifax and TransUnion
- Ask your insurance company for a new card and ID number if you have lost your information or had it stolen
- Do not give out insurance information via email or over the phone unless you are the one who initiated communication and are certain of whom you are speaking to
- Refrain from taking free offers for health products or services that request your health plan number
- Do not provide information on the phone to callers who say they’re collecting health survey information and require your insurance or Medicare number
- Do not share your health insurance information with family and friends
How to Respond to Identity Theft
Hopefully, you will not deal with medical ID theft, but if you are a victim of this type of identity fraud, you can take measures to respond and minimize the damage.
- Contact Your Health Insurance Provider – The first step should be talking to your insurance provider. Any time you notice something strange, contact them. It’s possible they made a mistake and calling them will help you discover the problem.
- Get Copies of Your Records – You will need evidence, so request records from places you believe medical fraud may have occurred.
- Ask for an Accounting of Disclosures – This will tell you who received your medical records from that provider. They will provide you with one per year per provider. This helps you discover places that may have received fraudulent records.
- Go to IdentityTheft.gov – If you have confirmed that you are a victim of medical identity theft, report it to IdentityTheft.gov. Created by the FTC, the website will help generate a helpful recovery plan.
- File a Police Report – You will also need to involve law enforcement, and few people do. It’s best to file a report with your local police department for your personal safety.
Unlike other types of fraud, it is often weeks or months before you discover someone stole your medical ID. Some of the damages experienced from this type of identity fraud include lower credit ratings, higher cost of coverage, denial of coverage, denial of services, or even inaccurate medical records.
Medical identity theft can not only cause unnecessary stress and complications, but it can also be a serious health risk. Falsified information on a medical record can lead to dangerous consequences for the patient and needs to be closely monitored.
Start monitoring medical bills, credit reports, and guarding your personal information carefully to prevent or make you aware of medical ID theft when it happens. By following these recommendations and vigilantly checking information, both the patient and the provider can rest easy knowing that their personal medical information whether with them or in their electronic medical records is secure.
Here are some helpful resources to look into: