All are examples of medical identity theft, an increasing threat in the digital age by cyberthieves who gain access to personal information, such as medical data, health insurance records and
In 2014, medical identity theft cases jumped an estimated 22 percent compared with the prior year, according to the most recent annual study by the
Given those numbers, it can feel like we're particularly exposed and vulnerable.
To get some answers, we talked recently with
Q: What makes medical ID theft more dangerous than regular financial theft?
A: With health care, it makes things potentially more complicated. For example, if someone uses your medical information to fraudulently obtain services -- surgery, hospital care, etc. -- that person's information will be introduced into your medical records. If it doesn't match what's true for you, it could affect your medical care. It could state that you had a certain surgery you never had or are taking a certain medication you don't take or are even allergic to.
Q: Did the push to electronic medical records make us more vulnerable?
A: It's a fairly significant factor. It used to be your paper documents were living in a file drawer in the doctor's office or hospital. Now they also have a digital life. ... But we have not yet seen any clear data on the relationship between all the data breaches we hear about and medical identity theft. We don't know what percentage is caused by those big data breaches we're reading about.
Q: How much is social media putting us at risk?
A: It's a burgeoning area, given our increasing use of apps and Instagram and
Q: Most victims say they didn't know until getting a debt collector's notice or spotting a fraudulent medical bill. What should people do if that happens?
A: The first thing is to call the doctor's office, hospital or lab. It could be just a clerical mistake, so you want to clarify that first. Billing errors can happen. Second, if someone has fraudulently used your information to buy medically related services and you are now either getting billed or dunned for it, go to the police and file a report. You want to establish that you've been a crime victim.
The third thing: File an identity theft report with the
Q: What's your best advice to prevent medical ID theft?
A: Be careful with your personal information. If you lose your health insurance card, ask not only for a new card, but a new ID number. That old number will be shut down and a would-be thief can no longer use it. Be stingy with your
We all should be checking all correspondence from our insurance companies and health care providers. Those "explanation of benefits" statements in the mail or online, it's really important to read them. It can provide a clue if someone is using your personal information. We also need to be checking our credit reports (free at AnnualCreditReport.com) on a regular basis. If you see odd charges or an account you don't recognize, that's a signal.
Perhaps the most important: Get copies of your medical records. Go to each of your health care providers and ask for copies of your records. ... In the event you are victimized and your medical records get changed, you will have proof of the original. There's usually a request process. But it's absolutely your right to have those copies.
Q: Is the situation hopeless?
A: It sounds dire. However, we have to remember that in the world of identity theft, the numbers (2.3 million victims) on medical identity fraud are still small. It's still a crime that's very limited, compared to overall financial identity theft. ... There's no guaranteed way to prevent it in a digital world. But you're not helpless. You have rights to your medical information.
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