In an effort to protect against identity theft, many people focus on guarding their financial information. While that information commonly leads to fraud, it’s become increasingly important for consumers to be aware of how medical information can create the most damage without them realizing.
The meth-addicted baby case
In one example, Utah resident Anndorie Cromar found out she became a victim of medical identity theft when Child Protective Services contacted her about a baby she never had. According to Al Jazeera, a caseworker said she was investigating Cromar because a baby she’d had tested positive for methamphetamine, but Cromar hadn’t given birth recently, nor had she done any drugs. When she insisted on the truth, though, Child Protective Services didn’t believe her. Days later, she found out that when her driver’s license was stolen from her car earlier that year, it was used to commit medical identity theft against her.
The thief had fraudulently used her information to get an ambulance ride and ultrasound, check into the hospital, give birth and put her name on the newborn’s birth certificate, legally making Cromar the mother of the baby.
The chaos didn’t end there, though. When Cromar tried to report the fraud, she was stopped by medical privacy laws that barred her from accessing her own medical records. The Al Jazeera article reported that Cromar still doesn’t have access to these records to make sure they are correct. As a consequence, Cromar almost lost her real children to Child Protective Services, had her medical records tarnished by false information, and was billed nearly $10,000 for hospital fees and medical services she did not receive.
Why medical ID theft is so vicious
As indicated in Cromar’s case, once fraudulent data is out there, the mess becomes difficult to clean up. That’s why prevention and early detection are key, especially in medical identity theft, which has been on the rise since the health care industry began adopting digital record-keeping. Its newness in data technology has left many systems vulnerable to breaches.
To worsen these vulnerabilities, medical information is 10 times more valuable than credit card numbers on the black market, according to Reuters. This is probably because this information can give a thief access to bank and insurance accounts, as well as the ability to obtain prescriptions and medical services. For fraudsters, this type of fraud is also more appealing because of the lag-time between when the crime occurs and the victim finds out.
“As attackers discover new methods to make money, the health care industry is becoming a much riper target because of the ability to sell large batches of personal data for profit,” Dave Kennedy, an expert on healthcare security and CEO of TrustedSEC, told Reuters. “Hospitals have low security, so it’s relatively easy for these hackers to get a large amount of personal data for medical fraud.”
How you can detect it
Luckily, there are plenty of ways you can protect yourself, and one of those includes knowing the signs of medical identity theft. According to the Federal Trade Commission, some events that indicate medical fraud include:
- Receiving bills for services you did not receive
- Seeing incorrect information or medial collection notices on your credit report
- Being notified by your health care plan that you’ve reached your benefit limit
- Being denied services because of a health condition you don’t have
It’s also important to be proactive about your own security, especially in an age when so much of our personal information is digital. You should always be selective about what kind of information you share online and use a variety of strong passwords for all your accounts. If you’re still concerned about the state of your identity and other sensitive information, you can invest in an identity theft protection service that can monitor your credit file, Social Security Number and public records to alert you to certain activity that could indicate fraud.