According to Ponemon Institute’s 2015 Fifth Annual Study on Medical Identity Theft the number of medical identity theft incidents rose by 21.7 percent between 2013 and 2014. The Medical Identity Fraud Alliance found that 2.3 million Americans were the victims of medical identity theft in 2014, with damages totaling more than $20 billion. One-fifth of victims found that their credit scores suffered due to the theft, while a third lost their health insurance. Ponemon’s findings suggest that around 65 percent of all medical identity theft victims pay an average of $13,500 just to resolve the crime.
Medical identity theft is a dangerous crime, but not just because it can cost victims financially. It also puts lives at risk, in a variety of ways. Anndorie Sachs found this out first-hand, when she received a terrifying phone call. Her newborn baby had been tested positive for illegal drugs and the Utah Division of Child and Family Services was ready to put through paperwork to take custody of Sachs’ other children. The next day, authorities were at her door.
Sachs, however, had not had a child recently. Her youngest was two years old. But a few miles away another woman, Dorothy Bell Moran, had given birth to a baby using Sachs’ identity. She had walked out of the hospital shortly after giving birth, so the hospital attempted to track her down using the ID she had provided, only to be led to Anndorie Sachs instead.
Moran had used a stolen driver’s license at the hospital, and left Sachs with a $10,000 bill and a long fight to prove that she was innocent.
Such scenarios aren’t all that victims of medical identity theft have to worry about. According to fraud expert Chris Dorn, medical ID theft often results in medical records being altered, with crooks changing information so that they can receive care.
“Inadvertently, your blood type can be changed, your medications that you’re on can be changed, your underlying medical conditions can be changed,” he told CBS.
As Sachs wondered, after her ordeal, “Am I going to have some emergency some day and I’m going to show up at the hospital and they are going to give me the wrong blood type because they still have her blood type in the files? I just don’t feel safe anymore.”
The good news is, there are precautions individuals can take to lower their risk of becoming victims of medical identity theft:
- Protect healthcare records with as much vigilance as you would your credit card or bank information. Shred documents that are no longer needed or out-of-date.
- Read your explanation-of-benefits statements from healthcare providers line-by-line to make sure all the information is accurate.
- Ask hospitals and clinics how they use your information, what protections are in place to keep data safe and whether they share your personal details with any other organizations.
Finally, make sure to check your credit report regularly. Signing up for a credit monitoring service can help too. These services alert you when certain activity occurs on your credit files that might indicate fraud.