The research estimates that at least 2.32 million adult-aged Americans were victims of medical ID theft in or before 2014.
Medical identity theft occurs when someone uses an individual’s name and personal identity to fraudulently receive medical services, prescription drugs or other medical goods. Medical ID theft also includes attempts to commit fraudulent billing and health services received when an individual shares health insurance credentials with friends or family for their use.
Medical identity theft is incredibly costly for consumers. Ponemon found that 65 percent of medical identity theft victims who participated in the study had spent money to try to resolve the theft. The average cost was $13,500, paid to the healthcare provider or repaid to insurers for services the criminal obtained.
Making those payments did not spell the end of a victim’s worries. Without any resolution to the fraud, bills may continue to be charged to their names, and many victims have no idea who to contact. Once they do find someone to contact, such as their insurer, HIPAA privacy regulations can often get in the way of resolving the crime.
Money is not the only concern. Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum, told the Chicago Tribune, “Your medical file starts reflecting this fake reality and gets totally polluted. This is why when people are victims of medical forms of identity theft, they can literally have life-threatening consequences.”
For this reason the best course of action for individuals is to work to lower their risk of falling victim to identity theft. There are a few ways to do this:
- Review insurance statements: Make a point to monitor your “Explanation of Benefits” statement from your health insurer. Look for services you did not receive, offices you never visited or equipment you did not purchase. Sometimes these services will appear on your bill, but won’t cost you anything — don’t assume that everything is okay if there is no charge. Any and all errors on your insurance statement should be disputed with the insurer as soon as possible. Experts suggest that 80 percent of people don’t read their Explanation of Benefits statements.
- Get a copy of your electronic medical file: Pam Dixon says she cannot emphasize how important it is for a person to request a copy of their medical files. Reconstructing your original medical history after it has been compromised is very difficult, so it’s better to catch problems early. Ask the doctor you see most often for a copy of your medical files. Dixon suggests to skip pricey records, like X-ray copies, but to look at other documents that list current medications and previous services received. Make sure everything accurately reflects you, including listed allergies and future procedures.
- Credit Monitoring Services: While credit monitoring services won’t help you detect medical record contamination, it can aid in the financial side of medical ID theft, especially if information like credit card numbers and Social Security numbers were stolen as a part of a larger breach. The service can alert you when certain activity occurs in your credit files which might indicate fraud.
No matter what, make sure to keep all of your medical documents and your insurance cards safe. Store your insurance cards with your SSN card in a safety deposit box, and carry a photocopy instead, in case of emergency. Dixon recommends that individuals black out the last 4 digits of the SSN on the copy, since hospitals can simply call the insurer for any other information they need to provide immediate care. You should, however, take your card to your regularly scheduled doctor visits.