Preventing medical ID theft has become a hot topic as Americans increasingly hear about the safety of their private medical records as more medical breeches continue to be discovered. Medical ID theft happens when a person uses someone’s identity to obtain medical services or steal money by falsifying claims for medical services. Identity thieves use a person’s Social Security number, insurance information, or other forms of identification to commit the medical ID theft.
Medical ID theft can have a devastating effect on victims, causing collections issues, credit problems, and even bankruptcy. But that’s not all. The type of medical treatment obtained by the identity thief can also prevent the victim from getting medical insurance or medical services themselves because, as far as the insurance company is concerned, the victim now has a “pre-existing” condition.
According to the FTC, medical ID theft accounts for three percent of all ID theft cases, or approximately 250,000 cases per year. Unfortunately, these medical ID theft statistics are expected to grow, especially with the shift to electronic medical records.
Preventing Medical ID Theft: The Unemployed and Uninsured
Due to their difficult circumstances, some groups are at a higher risk for becoming identity thieves. The unemployed and uninsured may use another person’s identity because of a belief that it’s the only way they can receive quality medical care. Since they’re unemployed, they don’t have access to an employer’s healthcare benefits, and they can’t afford to buy medical insurance because they don’t have a job. It’s a vicious cycle, and it can make good people do bad things.
Preventing Medical ID Theft: Illegal Immigration
Illegal immigration also poses a serious threat as medical ID theft continues to rise. When an illegal immigrant steals private information such as an individual’s Social Security number, he or she can obtain identification and numerous services reserved for legal residents. If precautions aren’t taken to prevent medical ID theft, an illegal immigrant can get a passport, driver’s license, bank account, credit card, loan, mortgage, insurance, medical treatment, and many other services.
Preventing Medical ID Theft in Five Steps
Begin preventing medical ID theft by following these five easy steps:
1. Have your Social Security number removed from your insurance records. If your Social Security number is currently on your insurance card, don’t carry your card with you. Keep it in a safe place and only carry a photocopy with all but the last four digits of your Social Security number blacked out.
2. Obtain copies of your credit reports, insurance claims, and medical records. Lock them in a safe or safety deposit box, or place them on a CD or flash drive.
3. Next, regularly review your credit reports, insurance claims, and medical records for suspicious entries, such as a medical treatment that was never performed on you.
4. Immediately address disputes on your explanation of benefits, bills for medical services you never received, or any other charges that could be sent to collections and damage your credit. These need to be investigated and removed from your records.
5. Don’t leave a paper trail. Destroying sensitive information you no longer need is another critical step in preventing medical ID theft, so shred claims that are more than seven years old. Also, ask if your provider’s office performs background checks employees to prevent medical ID theft rings and stolen medical information.
Preventing medical ID theft takes vigilance. Medical ID thieves are doing everything to stay one step ahead of you and the authorities, so use medical ID theft prevention strategies to protect your private information.
Linda Vincent, R.N., P.I., is an identity theft and healthcare fraud prevention expert specializing in medical consulting and investigations. She teaches corporations, professional practices, and consumers how to stop identity theft and healthcare fraud.