What’s The Problem?
There are many different types of identity theft, and it’s important as a consumer to stay up-to-date on all of them. One growing concern is medical identity theft, which is becoming very popular among thieves because of the diverse kinds of information that can be gleaned from medical files.Medical organizations can also suffer from poorer security than banks typically boast because digital records seem secondary to the overall mission of, for example, a hospital. Medical records typically sell for $50 a piece and are used to commit a variety of crimes. Thieves often steal the records of children and elderly people, since fraud is less likely to be detected by people who do not often open new accounts or secure new loans.
The crime is not likely to go away any time soon. The Ponemon Institute reported that 1.8 million Americans experienced medical identity theft in 2013, which was a 20 percent increase from 2012.
One factor that is probably to blame for this increase is the digitization of medical records in institutions across the U.S.
“Digitized records are much easier to steal than paper ones,” physician Deborah Peel told The Journal. “Once you needed a convoy to haul away records. Now all you need is a thumb drive.”
Steps You Can Take
There are some simple steps you can take to help protect your identity:
- Ask for a copy of your medical records: Federal law gives you the right to know what’s in your medical records. Contact your doctor and hospitals to see your files, then search them for any fraudulent charges or inaccurate medical procedures that might signal fraud.
- Ask to have information removed: Call your healthcare provider or hospital and ask to have excess personal information scrubbed from your files. The institution can then remove driver’s license and Social Security numbers from your records.
- Contact your medical provider: If you realize you have been a victim of medical identity theft, then contact your medical provider right away to begin rectifying the situation.
- Don’t give out your Social Security number: Many medical forms will ask you to enter your Social Security number, even when it’s not really necessary. By refusing to provide this information where it’s not used makes it much more difficult for criminals to steal your identity.
- Shred old documents: Be sure to shred your old medical records and bills instead of simply throwing them away. Thieves can recover your information from your garbage can. Keep bills and documents you still need in a safe and secure location.
Although no one can prevent identity theft, it’s still absolutely necessary to take some defensive measures so that you can detect the crime as soon as it happens. This is especially important where medical identity theft is concerned, since criminals who receive treatment in your name could be adding inaccurate information to your medical chart. This doesn’t just affect your bank account: It also affects the quality of medical care you might receive in the future. So be sure to keep an eye on your medical insurance records so you know if any of your information has been stolen.