Understand Medical Identity Theft and What You can Do About It

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There is another vicious kind of crime called ‘medical identity Theft’, which is an offspring of identity theft. Medical identity theft occurs when a criminal steals your personal health information and uses it without your consent or knowledge. The identity thief may use this information to obtain or receive payment for medical treatments.

Information that is stolen can  be used to steal expensive medical services – even surgeries – and even going ahead to obtain prescription drugs or to even acquire medical devices such as wheelchairs. It can also be used to falsify insurance claims or to acquire government benefits such as Medicare or Medicaid. The list of what can done with a hijacked medical information is endless.

The personal information that is usually required includes social security number, health insurance number and email address, etc.

Medical Identity thieves bill your health plan for fake or inflated treatment claims. Often times the information is stolen by employees at medical facilities because they have easy access to such information and they know how the insurance billing system works. Organized theft rings also are involved. They buy stolen patient information on the black market, and set up fake clinics to make bogus claims against the health policies of honest consumers. Medical personnel with access to your data may use your identity to obtain prescription drugs to sell, or feed their own addictions. Dishonest pharmacists might bill your policy for narcotics, or nurses may call in prescriptions in a patient’s name but pick it up themselves.

Medical personnel are not the only culprits of this crime, a friend or family member who is in need of care and who has access to your personal information may make use of it to receive free medical treatment. They assume your identity at a hospital or clinic, and your policy receives the bills. Thieves may also hack into medical databases or break into medical facilities.

Medical Identity theft can cause serious and long-lasting damage. Recovering can take years. Thieves often ring up large hospital bills in your name, then disappear without paying. This can ruin your credit. Straightening out inaccurate credit records can take months or even years of time-consuming headaches. Meanwhile, you could be hounded by bill collectors, turned down for loans or mortgages, and forced to pay higher lending costs. You also could lose jobs; some employers check a candidate’s credit history.

Medical Identity theft can threaten your health or even life. A thief’s treatment history can end up on your medical records. This could include the wrong blood type, or medicine to which you’re allergic. Your life thus could be on the line if you receive the wrong treatment based on the thief’s treatment. Your records also could be falsely saddled with damaging — and inaccurate — diagnoses such as mental illness. This could follow you throughout your life.

Fraudulent insurance claims can max out your health-policy limits. This can leave you with no coverage when you have a medical emergency, or need an expensive operation or other treatment. False claims against a health insurance policy can raise your health premiums — costing you yet more money.

How do you know if your medical identity has been stolen?

  • Unexplainable expenses in a bill for medical services is one of the earliest signs of medical identity theft. You might also receive a letter or phone call from a debt collector inquiring about a medical debt that does not belong to you.
  • Fraudulent health insurance claims can max out your health policy limits. This can leave you with no coverage when you have a medical emergency or need an expensive operation or other treatment.
  • Other signs include an unfamiliar medical collection notice of your credit report or mistakes in your medical record.

What should you do if you are a victim of medical identity theft?

  • When you’ve discovered that you are a victim of medical identity theft, try to determine which information was used by the thief to access your medical treatment.
  • Obtain copies of your medical records and search for any discrepancies. After you’ve obtained a copy of your medical records, contact every health care provider where your personal information was used such as hospitals, pharmacies, laboratories and so on.
  • Send all information documenting the identity theft to the medical billing department and collection agencies involved.
  • Send a request in writing to your medical insurance providers to correct your medical record. You will need to prove that your medical record contains invalid items.
  • File a medical identify theft complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which handles all types of identity theft.
  • File a police report with the department that has jurisdiction in your case.

How you can avoid becoming a victim of medical identity theft

  • Monitor your credit reports with the nationwide credit reporting companies – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion – to identify reports of medical debts.
  • Regularly ask your health insurance provider for a record of the benefits that have been paid in your name.
  • Only disclose your personal information to legitimate sources. Be aware that identity thieves can impersonate medical personnel, including doctors, pharmacists, and insurance professionals.
  • Request your medical and insurance providers assign you a unique personal identification number, and do not use your Social Security number on your records.
  • Don’t reveal medical or insurance information by phone or email unless you made the first contact.
  • File paper and electronic copies of your records in a secure location, and shred any outdated medical documents, including old prescription labels.