Hackers who commit medical identity fraud steal medical information, clinical records, insurance card data and other sensitive health information that allows them to file claims with Medicare, Medicaid or the victim’s insurance. Thieves receive medical treatment, purchase drugs or scam these organizations for money. Some even sell the data on to others who can use it.
In just one year, 2014, the number of medical id theft cases has increased by 22 percent, suggesting that the fight against this crime is just beginning. The risk increases when cyber attacks begin to target major corporations. In recent years data breaches have exposed the health information of tens of millions of Americans.
While we cannot fight security breaches at large companies, there are steps that we all should take to protect our information and try to reduce our chances of becoming victims:
- Take care of your healthcare records like you would your credit card or bank information: Medical papers carry incredibly sensitive information, but we tend to view them as less at-risk than our bank or credit card statements. Keep your medical records in a secure place and shred them before throwing them out.
- Review your records regularly: Read your explanation-of-benefits statements from providers to check for any charges you don’t recognize. “Your medical records are specific to you,” Twila Brase, president of the Citizens’ Council for Health Freedom notes. “What [the ID theft threat] requires is for you to look into your medical records wherever they are and see perhaps what has been put in there that’s not about you.”
- Find out how medical providers share your information: Request an “accounting of disclosures” from medical providers, a list that provides information when a HIPAA-covered entity discloses an individual’s information to others. You are entitled to one copy of this document per year, from every provider you use.
- Check your credit report: Identity thieves might generate medical bills that are charged to your credit card. Check your credit report regularly for accounts that don’t look familiar and other activity that you don’t recognize. Signing up for a credit monitoring service is also helpful. This service will alert you when certain activity occurs in your credit files that may indicate fraud.
- Don’t share medical information: Never give out your personal or health information to friends or family members who want to access medical care. This is an easy way to become a victim of medical identity theft. Even if you absolutely trust your family members, it’s never worth the risk — not to mention illegal.
- Keep your eyes open for scams: Scammers have all sorts of ways to get unsuspecting individuals to hand over their information. Keep an eye out for people claiming to work for healthcare companies who need to “verify” your information. Never sign up for services that sound too good to be true, especially when they require you to disclose information like your Social Security number.
If you think you might be a victim of identity theft be sure to report the incident to your insurance provider, doctor, local police and federal or state authorities.