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Don’t Be a Victim of Medical Identity Theft
By Nancy Kennedy


Chances are that you are familiar with the dangers of identity theft, but did you know there is a medical form of this crime? Medical identity theft is a growing type of identity fraud and is defined as the theft of your personal information - especially health insurance or Medicare numbers - by another person for the purpose of obtaining benefits under your name - getting treatment, prescriptions or medical equipment.  Sadly, the perpetrator could be someone you know, even a family member. Perhaps the person lacks health insurance or lacks the funds to pay for a needed medication or doctor visit, and uses your numbers in an act of desperation. But many people steal medical information not only to get medical benefits fraudulently but also because they can sell your information for profit on the “black market.”

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), medical identity theft is on the rise, with a 103 percent jump in cases in 2018. Obtaining your medical numbers is not hard – thieves can steal your mail or go through your trash to find discarded health insurance documents. They can make fake offers of free medical devices – a common scam – and ask you outright for your information. They can get it through data breaches.

Consequences

You have to become protective of your health insurance information to prevent this, because medical identity theft can have enormous, long lasting consequences, to your finances, health and peace of mind. Some of these consequences:

  • Impaired credit: many victims report experiences with aggressive medical debt collection and lowered credit scores;
  • Some victims even have faced criminal prosecution because thieves used their identities to stockpile prescription drugs;
  • Medical identity theft is more costly than regular financial identity theft. Federal law limits consumers’ liability for fraudulent credit card charges, but there’s no such protection for a stolen medical identity;
  • Among victims of medical ID theft surveyed in 2015 by the Ponemon Institute, a cybersecurity research firm, those who lost money spent an average of $13,500, including legal and medical costs. (Source: AARP)

Medical identity theft can harm your health as well as your finances. If a scammer gets medical treatment in your name, that person’s health problems could become a part of your medical record, and could be mixed in with your own medical history. This can lead to severe complications when you need medical treatment - it could affect your ability to get care and insurance benefits, and could even impact clinical decisions made by healthcare professionals.

Warning Signs

Be aware of the warning signs of medical identity theft: a debt collector contacts you about a medical bill that you did not incur; you receive a bill for a drug or service you didn’t receive; you receive an explanation of benefits (EOB) for drugs or services you did not receive; or your insurance company tells you that you have reached your benefit limit and you know that’s not possible. If any of these things happen, notify your health insurance company immediately.

Preventive Actions:

  • Shred outdated medical documents
  • Review all EOBs and medical bills very carefully
  • Keep track of your credit report
  • Never share your medical information with a family member or friend
  • Never give medical information over the phone to a caller or in a reply to an email
  • Hang up on callers who say they have an offer of free medical equipment
  • Avoid participating in “medical surveys” on the phone
  • Do not carry your Social Security numbers with you
  • Keep your medical and insurance documents in a safe place

If you believe that you are a victim of medical identity theft, there are actions you can take that will mitigate the damage.  The FTC has an excellent resource on their web site that will guide you through every step of the process: www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0171-medical-identity-theft

To report medical identity theft, go to www.identitytheft.gov



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