If you’re like most consumers, when you imagine identity theft you picture someone opening credit cards in your name or spending unscrupulously on your accounts. If you’re like the millions of Americans who have been targeted by medical identity theft, however, you might have a very different sense of the crime. In the case of medical identity theft, ID thieves use stolen information not to apply for new lines of credit, but to secure medical treatment.
Armed with information such as a person’s name, Social Security Number and health insurance account information, criminals might visit a doctor, purchase prescription drugs or file insurance claims in the other person’s name. As a result, victims are often left with massive hospital bills for treatments or drugs they never received. Like traditional ID theft , medical incidents like these can sap consumers’ savings and destroy their credit. With medical ID theft, however, the damage can be even more serious. Fraudulent hospital visits can also cause inconsistencies and mistakes in victims’ health records, which could affect the treatment they receive in the future.
While this type of fraud may seem rare or extreme, it is actually quite common in the United States – and it’s on the rise. Medical identity theft affected as many as 2.3 million U.S. consumers in 2014, up nearly 1 million from 2009, according to a study from the Ponemon Institute.
Boost your identity theft immune system
Careful control of how you use and share your personal data can help with protecting your identity from medical misuse. Consider these tips to keep your most sensitive information secure:
- Protect your files: While many consumers opt to pay their bills or review their financial statements online, hospital records and bills are often still sent on paper via the mail. Get in the habit of collecting your mail as soon as possible after it is delivered. Once you’ve opened and addressed any health care documents, either shred them with a cross-cut shredder or store them in a secure location.
- Watch what you share: The simplest way to protect your identity is to cut back on the amount of information you share, whether online or at the doctor’s office. If your health care provider asks you to hand over certain personal information, such as your Social Security Number, ask why they need it. Some hospitals merely use SSNs as patient tracking numbers, reported the Huffington Post. Whenever possible, ask if a less sensitive piece of information could suffice.
- Be careful online: With so much of our personal data stored on our phones and computers, protecting these devices is critical to our privacy. Browsing best practices include limiting your use of public Wi-Fi and avoiding links found in unexpected emails.
Detecting medical identity theft
While the above strategies can help protect your identity, there is no way to completely eliminate the risk of ID theft. With this in mind, early detection is one of the best ways to limit the damage an ID thief can levy on your accounts. To spot medical identity theft, the Federal Trade Commission recommended keeping a close eye on the Explanation of Benefits statements you receive after treatment. Read these closely, noting details like the date of the appointment and the name of your provider. If these entries appear unfamiliar, there is a chance someone else received treatment under your identity.
You should also get in the habit of reviewing your medical records. Much like reading through your credit reports, checking the listed information for accuracy could tip you off if someone else is making unauthorized changes to your account.
At Identity Guard, we specialize in helping consumers protect themselves against identity theft. To learn more about our monitoring services or online security tools, contact us today.