A growing problem
Financial identity theft is when someone steals your credit card or debit card, or uses your personal information to take out a loan in your name.
Medical identity theft is when someone uses your personal information to fraudulently receive medical care and have it paid for by you or your insurance.
If that person is treated under your name, your finances, your medical history and your health could be at risk.
What if that person steals thousands of dollars of prescription medications using your name?
What if that person is treated under your name and makes changes to your electronic medical record, such as a different blood type, a new allergy, or a surgery you never had?
The result would be plenty of confusion, and perhaps a dangerous delay in treatment. Not to mention the hospital bills. Or trouble with the law.
We know we have to protect our credit cards and bank accounts. But with the increasing use of the internet and electronic medical records (EMR), it’s easier than ever for hackers and scammers and thieves to obtain and use our information for medical services.
Our health care system is increasingly dependent on high-tech for storing all kinds of deeply personal medical information as well as insurance and billing transactions. Is it safe? Don’t count on it.
There have been several high-profile health care data hacks over the last few years (I was a victim of the Anthem hack), and a recent report from the Journal of the American Medical Association shows the trend is only increasing.
There are several steps you can take to protect yourself from medical identity theft.
- Treat your health insurance card as you would a driver’s license or a bank card; report a lost or stolen card right away.
- Don’t share your personal health information on Facebook or other social media.
- Don’t give out your social security number or a family member’s social security number to a health care provider (unless it’s a Medicare number).
- Don’t use private email to communicate with your health care provider. Most use a (relatively) secure system such as MyChart.
- Don’t allow your health care provider to store credit card or debit card numbers.
The Coalition Against Insurance Fraud offers these other tips to protect against medical identity theft:
- Review your Explanation of Benefits (EOBs). Ensure the doctors listed and services provided are accurate.
- Obtain your “benefits request” annually. Your insurance provider can provide a list of all benefits and services paid in your name.
- Check your medical records. If you suspect you’re a victim of medical ID fraud, get a copy of your records from your doctor, hospital, pharmacy or laboratory.
- Review your credit reports annually. You have a right to request a free annual credit report from each of the three credit bureaus. Be sure your reports are free of any medical liens.
And if you are the victim of medical identity fraud:
- File a police report. Filing a police report will notify law enforcement a crime may have been committed. Also send the report to your insurer, medical providers and all credit bureaus.
- Notify the government. File a medical identify theft complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or call the FTC’s tollfree hotline at 1-877-IDTHEFT (438-4338).
- Be warned: Correcting records can be hard. In general, federal law lets patients correct medical records created only by the medical provider or insurer that now maintains your information. A hospital or insurer that later receives your information doesn’t have to correct its records—even when they’re wrong. But you do have the right to have your records state that you disagree with the information, and why. Be sure your complaint is entered into your records.
Other forms of health fraud
The public’s continued confusion about the Affordable Care Act keeps scammers busy. Seniors are especially vulnerable, even though those on Medicare do not need to sign up or enroll on the ACA’s health exchanges.
Open enrollment is just around the corner, and no doubt the scammers will be hard at work.
The Coalition Against Insurance Fraud also has some examples of common ACA scams, like phony navigators and fake healthcare.gov websites, and tips for recognizing the scams and protecting yourself.
This post has been updated since its original publication in 2013.