Do you know how to prevent identity theft?
Most people have heard of identity theft – a crime where a thief steals your credit cards or Social Security number and uses them for fraudulent purposes. Identity theft is on the rise and sadly, related crimes such as medical identity theft and tax fraud are also increasing with alarming frequency.
[Read more about identity theft: Identity Theft By the Numbers – Facts and Trivia].
Medical identity theft – a trending crime. One increasingly common type of identity theft is medical identity theft. This type of theft occurs when people use your health insurance information to pay for medical treatments, surgeries, and prescription medications. There may also be situations where individuals working in the medical field use your information to submit fraudulent bills to insurance companies. Like any kind of theft of personal identity, medical identity theft is serious business that often goes unrecognized for far too long, making it harder to prove the fraudulent activities.
How To Detect and Prevent Medical Identity Theft
Identifying the Theft
Many consumers do not even know they have been swindled until the damage has already been done. This means the consumer will have to untangle a big mess in order to save their personal status as well as their relationship with their medical providers and insurance company.
To identify fraudulent activity on one’s personal finances, consumers can order copies of their credit report. While a credit report can show collection debts on medical expenses, they may not be the most reliable resource for halting medical fraud. To identify theft of medical information and insurance, a consumer may discover the following:
- A bill arrives for a medical procedure you did not have
- Calls from debt collectors start which claim you owe on medical debts you didn’t incur
- Being denied insurance due to benefit limitations being reached when you didn’t use insurance for services
- Being denied insurance because medical records in your name pinpoint medical conditions you have not been diagnosed with
Unfortunately, all of these signs of medical identity theft occur after the crime happened, putting your health care at risk.
Not a Victimless Crime
Each time a thief uses your medical insurance for a procedure, a record is created that lists the medical information of the patient. This can cause serious problems and can be a crime that turns fatal. If the con’s medical history is vastly different from the individual they are stealing from, medical errors can occur due to inaccurate recording of blood types, allergies, medical history, inaccurate test results, or diagnosis of illness or disease. Unknowingly, doctors can be treating the right patient for the wrong reason which can lead to serious illness, injury, or death.
Protecting Yourself from Medical Identity Thieves
While it is impossible to guarantee protection from personal identity theft of any kind, a consumer can use preventative measures to lessen their risk of being taken advantage of and having their medical insurance coverage placed in jeopardy.
Here are some tips to protect yourself:
Don’t Provide Information Without Confirmation
Never give out personal information or medical information over the phone or via email unless you have made the contact. You must be sure you know who you are talking to before you share information. Medical identity thieves have been known to pose as insurance representatives and doctors offices when contacting victims. Many people are apt to freely give out information over the phone without confirming who is on the other end. Sadly, many times thieves play on the elderly and others who have medical issues by assuring them the information is necessary for health reasons.
Take Care of Your Paperwork
If you have copies of medical insurance information, keep them in a safe place. Use caution when dealing with electronic files online. Never share personal information online unless you are confident in the safety of the resource. Since many providers are now going electronic, it is important you take security precautions when accessing the information on your computer.
Any medical documentation that you no longer need should be shredded before being put out for the trash. Medical identity thieves are not above digging through the trash to get their hands on the information. One billing statement or medical record can provide enough information to get you ripped off.
For more information, see this guide from the FTC.