Medical identity theft is the fastest growing identity crime in America.
According to the ID Theft Center
, medical identity theft
is America’s fastest growing identity crime, and the Medical Identity Fraud Alliance
(MIFA) reports that the number of identity theft cases in the medical industry has quadrupled within the last five years.
The Risks of Medical Identity Theft
- Finances: According to the 2013 Ponemon Institute’s survey on medical identity theft, 36 percent of victims paid out-of-pocket as a result of the crime, and on average those individuals paid $19,000.
- Information Laundering: “The crime itself can be very valuable to a cyber-criminal or any criminal, even a low-tech criminal,” Larry Ponemon, chairman and founder of the Ponemon Institute, told Fortune magazine, “and the reason is that the information contained in a medical record includes just about everything about you.” Credit cards and Social Security numbers can be used to commit financial and thieves can also sell other information to data brokers. Physical characteristics could even be used to create fraudulent passports.
- Medical Records: Perhaps the most significant threat of medical ID theft is the havoc it can wreak on your personal medical records. MIFA’s latest report included a testimonial from an elderly man who visited the ER for an infection. The doctor offered him penicillin, the same drug he had been prescribed during his last hospital visit. The man was, however, allergic to penicillin and had not visited the ER before. For patients who have had their identities stolen, their medical records could contain false information about blood types or allergies that might affect the treatment they receive.
- Medical Tests: People’s medical records count for more than health. Medical identity theft can jeopardize victims’ jobs, if their positions require certain medical test results. It can also affect parents. If a parent has his or her information stolen by drug abusers, for instance, custody issues could arise.
What You Can Do
- Dispose Carefully: Store your medical and insurance files in a safe place, and shred sensitive documents like old prescription labels.
- Don’t Fall For Phishing: Scammers sometimes make calls pretending to be insurance agencies. If you receive a call notifying you that you might have been the victim of a data breach, and they are asking for your insurance information, simply hang up. Legitimate institutions will never ask for sensitive information over the phone. Medical identity theft peaks in the fall, so be especially wary this time of year.
- Guard Your Card: Protect your health insurance card just as carefully as you do your credit cards, driver’s license and Social Security number. Access to your card allows thieves to receive healthcare in your name, and their medical conditions and treatments could contaminate your record and affect your future treatment. Call your insurance agency immediately if you lose your card, so they’re aware of a potential fraud risk and can assign you a new one.
- Keep It To Yourself: Refrain from sharing your health insurance information with friends or family. Not only is this illegal, but it can also expose your medical files to others, putting you at risk.
- Make Strong Passwords: When using patient portals, create passwords that are long and complicated to make it harder for a criminal trying to break into your account.
- Order a Credit Report: Order your free annual copy of your credit report from one of the three credit bureaus at annualcreditreport.com. Medical collection notices sometimes appear on credit reports and can alert you to medical identity theft.