Medical identity theft continues to grow. I recently saw a somewhat startling statement - to the scammer a stolen medical "identity" can be 50 times more valuable than any other kind of stolen identity. Personal health information is valuable. Depending on what’s included, each record can be worth between $2 and $50 on the black market, compared with 50 cents to $1 per record for credit card information
Trips to the emergency room are pretty common in the summer. Last year overall there were, according to the National Center for Health Statistics some 129.8 million emergency room visits in the US with 37.9 million injury-related visits. Slightly more of the visits were in the summer, about 27 percent (versus about 24 percent in winter and fall and just over 25 percent in the spring) and a high percent of the visits were injury related.
If you have the bad luck to be one of the millions who will have to make a trip to the ER this summer, you want to feel secure and protected. But with medical identity theft and fraud becoming a real source of worry, we must learn to better protect our personal information when we are forced to go to a hospital for treatment, especially if the visit is to the emergency room. Here are some ways.
1) Guard Social Security and Medicare numbers. These are the keys that criminals need for medical identity theft and fraud. Only give out the numbers when absolutely necessary - and feel free to ask why someone is requesting the number or ask to speak to a supervisor or manager.
2) Watch out for scammers. As ever, thieves will try to prey on trusting victims with schemes that look and sound either authentic or too good to be true. Scammers often approach victims in parking lots, or contact them by phone, purporting to be conducting a medical survey. If they ask for a Medicare (or Social Security) number, either walk away or hang up. Some scammers offer free medical equipment to those who provide them with a Medicare number, but it's not necessary to provide that information to get free equipment or products.
3) Read your medical and insurance statements regularly and completely. They can show warning signs of identity theft. Read the Explanation of Benefits (EOB) statement or Medicare Summary Notice that your health plan sends after treatment. Check the name of the provider, the date of service, and the service provided. Do the claims paid match the care you received? If you see a mistake, contact your health plan and report the problem.
The FTC says other signs of medical identity theft include:
- a bill for medical services you didn't receive
- a call from a debt collector about a medical debt you don't owe
- medical collection notices you receive or that show up on your credit report that you don't recognize
- a notice from your health plan saying you reached your benefit limit when you know you have not
- a notice of denial of insurance because your medical records show a condition you don't have
If you see signs of medical identity theft, order copies of your records and check for information that would indicate someone else is using your medical identity Remember you have the right to see your records and have mistakes corrected.
No one looks forward to being in the hospital, but the experience can be much worse if a visit leads to identity theft. Taking an aggressive approach to identity monitoring is the best protection against this growing identity theft trend.