Many individuals are familiar with financial identity theft, but it is also important to be aware of and on the lookout for medical identity theft. With the rise in electronic health records, it is easier for hackers to gain access to your personal information, health insurance information, and medical history. Unlike other industries, the protection of electronic patient data is a newer practice and health insurers and health care providers may not always be as savvy with their systems, thus making it easier for hackers to obtain information. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, the health and medical industry accounted for 34.5% of total breaches in 2016, coming in second behind businesses at 45.2%.
What is Medical Identity Theft?
Medical identity theft is when an unauthorized individual uses your personal information and health insurance for surgery, to see a doctor, to obtain prescriptions, or file a false claim. Compared to financial identity theft, it is typically harder and more time consuming to clean up the damage. Victims of medical identity theft are in danger of harming their finances and their future medical care. Medical identity theft is not covered under the Fair Credit Billing Act, where consumers are only liable for up to $50 for unauthorized credit card charges. This often puts victims in a position where they need to hire an attorney to dispute false medical bills, and attorney fees can add up quickly. The more time that passes, the more a thief’s own medical history can be entwined with your own which could lead to incorrect diagnoses based on false medical information.
How to protect yourself?
Medical identity theft is typically less obvious and more difficult to detect than financial identity theft. Individuals who have had a recent surgical procedure, new mothers, and patients with a chronic or serious illness can be more susceptible to medical identity theft due to their more frequent interaction with doctors and the health care system. Some measures you can take to prevent falling victim to medical identity theft include:
- Monitor your “Explanation of Benefits” statements from your health plan very closely and report any inaccuracies.
- Beware of free services that ask you to provide your insurance number.
- Listen closely when a healthcare provider reviews your medical history and look for inaccuracies.
- Request a copy of your Medical Records from your doctors.
- Protect and safeguard your health plan membership identification card as if it were a credit card.
- Review your MIB (Medical Information Bureau) consumer file annually. Your MIB is used by the insurance industry to underwrite health, life and long-term care insurance. MIB’s toll-free number to request your information disclosure is 1-866-692-6901.
If you think you may be a victim of medical or financial identity theft, be sure to file an identity theft report with the police and the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) as soon as possible.