Medical Identity Theft

Each year, 2 million Americans experience medical identity theft, according to a study by the Ponemon Institute. Criminals steal personal information, such as a Medicare or Social Security number, to get medical care, buy drugs or submit false claims for insurance or Medicare reimbursement.

Like any occurrence of identity theft, medical identity theft can damage your credit and drain your bank account. If the crime causes incorrect information to find its way into your personal medical records, it could even result in you receiving incorrect treatment.

In fact, 32 percent of those surveyed in the Ponemon study said they discovered medical identity theft had occurred when errors appeared in their medical records – the second-most common way to learn of medical identity theft.

While guarding against other forms of identity theft should be routine, preventing medical identity theft requires some added precautions. The Federal Trade Commission advises consumers to take the following steps when resolving Medical Identity Theft Issues:

•    Always verify who you’re talking to before sharing medical information. Only provide information over the phone or via email if you have initiated the contact and can be positively sure of the legitimacy of the individuals you’re dealing with. Medical identity thieves often pose as representatives of insurance companies, doctor’s offices or government agencies to scam consumers.

•    Secure paper copies of medical and insurance records and forms. Lock them in a drawer, lockbox or file cabinet. If you use online resources to manage your health care, be wary of sites that ask for too much information, such as your Social Security number.

•    Shred all documents before discarding them in the trash, including health insurance forms, bills and records. Remove and destroy labels before throwing away your prescription pill bottles.

Additionally, treat your Medicare and Social Security cards with the same caution you use for your credit cards. Like credit cards, losing or having one of these cards stolen can expose you to fraud and medical identity theft.

Finally, never let someone else use your Medicare card. Amazingly, 31 percent of the Ponemon respondents admitted they’d allowed a family member to use their Medicare ID card to obtain health services, even though doing so is illegal and could have exposed them to medical identity theft.

On average, medical identity theft costs $22,346 per victim, Ponemon reports. Only 10 percent of those who experienced the crime in 2012 were able to resolve their issues, and of those 45 percent resolved things by paying a health care provider or the insurance company for the services obtained by the identity thieves.

Any identity theft is harmful and frightening, but when medical identity theft occurs it can also be life-threatening. Be sure to prevent Medical Identity Theft upfront so benefits aren’t compromised and records aren’t falsified. Taking precautions against Medical Identity Theft may not only be good for your credit – it may be good for your health as well!