Medical identity theft has impacted the lives of millions of Americans. Although the crime doesn’t receive as much attention as financial identity theft, the results can be just as devastating. As medical and health insurance information become increasingly digitized, thieves and scammers can steal your data and use your insurance for themselves.
Thieves usually target people who they believe will fall for a scam or who won’t notice extra charges and services on their records. However, anyone with a health insurance policy is at risk of becoming a victim. You should be aware of the signs of medical identity theft as well as the steps you can take to avoid it.
What Is Medical Identity Theft?
Medical identity theft is the illegal use of someone’s personal information to see a doctor, undergo a procedure, get prescription drugs, or bill an insurance company for medical care that was never provided. This can happen if a fraudster gets your name, Social Security number, medical insurance identity number, or other personally identifying information.
Thieves may use your information themselves or they may sell it to someone else. Stolen health insurance information and medical records can sell for $2,000 on the black market, but buyers can save tens of thousands of dollars on medical services by using your health insurance.
In 2015, the Department of Health and Human Services reported that health care breaches had caused a loss of more than 112 million medical records. The Medical Identity Theft Alliance also released a report stating that more than 2 million Americans were victims of medical identity theft just in 2014. However, with the 2015 Anthem data breach that compromised the personal information of 80 million people, the number of medical fraud victims in recent years is likely much higher.
Here are some of the most common signs of medical identity theft:
- Health care statements with incorrect information
- Bills for services you didn’t receive
- Unexpected collection notices on your credit report
- Calls from debt collectors about a medical debt you’re unaware of
If you experience any of these problems, you should contact your health insurance provider right away. Then, you should get copies of all your medical records and check them for mistakes. Call every doctor, pharmacy, or hospital where the thief might have used your identity and ask for a record of the services provided.
How Damaging Is Medical Identity Theft?
Medical identity theft is becoming increasingly common. This may be because the information involved in health care, such as your Social Security number and medical records, is permanent. While credit card numbers and bank account information can be changed or cancelled as soon as you notice theft, it’s much more difficult to get medical identity theft under control.
Most people also aren’t as cautious about medical identity theft as they are about credit card theft or other types of identity theft. It’s not a problem that’s talked about frequently, so people may not look at their health insurance records as closely as they do their other financial information. Medical identity theft can go on for a long time and cause serious damage before the victim notices.
On average, victims of identity theft have to spend $13,500 to reverse all the damage caused by the fraudster. There aren’t just financial costs, though. If the thief’s health information gets mixed up with your own, you could face serious problems with your health care. For example, you might receive a medication you’re allergic to or you may be denied a medication you need.
How Can You Protect Yourself?
Medical identity theft can cause major problems that are difficult to correct. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to minimize your risk.
Review the documentation after you receive health care services
After you receive any treatment, you should receive an Explanation of Benefits, or EOB, from your health insurance provider. If you use Medicare, you’ll receive a Medicare Summary Notice. Review these documents carefully and notify your health insurance company right away if you see any unfamiliar charges. EOBs can sometimes be complicated and confusing to understand but pay close attention to dates of service and provider names. If something doesn’t match up with the services you received, it’s a major red flag.
Make sure your medical records are accurate
When you visit your doctor, check in to make sure all the records of your treatments, procedures, and other services are accurate. You can also check your doctor’s records of your health details to look for signs of fraud. If your doctor’s chart has the wrong blood type, allergies, or pre-existing conditions, it might indicate that a fraudster has stolen your identity.
Never share your medical or insurance information
You should protect your medical and insurance information with the same care that you have for your credit card details or your Social Security number. Dispose of old, unneeded documents by shredding them, and be careful when sharing your information over the phone or via email. You should only give your health insurance provider your information when you initiate contact and verify that you’re speaking to a legitimate representative.
Be cautious of scams
Identity thieves often try to contact potential victims by warning them about a data breach. They impersonate the victim’s health insurance provider and ask for personal information to “protect them.” Your insurance company will never ask for your personal data through an email or phone call, so you should be cautious if you receive this type of communication.
Another common scam is an offer for a free health product or service that requires you to share your health information. No matter how legitimate or trustworthy the provider may seem, if they ask for your personal information, it’s likely an attempt to steal your identity.
If you carefully protect your information, keep an eye on your medical records and avoid scams, you’ll greatly reduce your risk of medical identity theft. In the event that a fraudster does steal your information, reporting it immediately will help you minimize the damage. Thieves often prey on people who are naive or inattentive, so being knowledgeable about identity theft is the best way to protect yourself.