Hey friend! Medical identity theft is no joke – it can create a huge mess in your healthcare records and finances. As your resident medical identity theft guru, I’m here to give you the full download on protecting yourself. Grab your coffee and get ready to learn how thieves can steal your medical identity, what you can do to safeguard your info, and how to fix the damage if you do become a victim.
Medical identity theft is when someone uses your personal information like your name, insurance details, or Social Security number to scam the healthcare system. They pretend to be you to get medical services, prescription drugs, medical equipment or to submit fake claims to your health insurance provider.
It’s a type of identity theft that can have serious consequences for your health and finances. Unlike regular identity theft, medical identity theft can literally put your life at risk by corrupting your medical records with false information. I’ll explain more about that later.
These crafty thieves use different tactics to get their hands on your info. Here are some of the most common methods:
- Digging through medical records or insurance info: Crooks rifle through medical documents in public trash bins or steal records from healthcare facilities. They look for info like your health insurance card, prescription labels, medical forms, or hospital bracelets.
- Hacking databases: Healthcare organizations have troves of patient data that is enticing to hackers. In 2019 alone, over 4 billion medical records were breached! Thieves hack into these databases to steal social security numbers, birthdates, addresses, and insurance details.
- Insider access: This one gives me the creeps. Some thieves actually get jobs in medical offices or insurance companies to access patient records. They steal confidential information directly from the source.
- Careless online sharing: Be careful what you share on social media or online forums! Posting your insurance information or prescription details may give thieves what they need to commit medical identity theft.
- Phishing: This clever scam is when thieves pretend to be someone trustworthy to trick you into sharing your information. They may call, email, text or send official-looking letters asking for your Medicare card number, social security number, or other details. Don’t fall for it!
- Unsafe websites: Entering your information on unsecured websites can allow cybercriminals to access and steal your data through malware. Only log into your medical or insurance accounts using verified, safe websites.
As you can see, medical identity thieves are resourceful! That’s why we all need to be vigilant about protecting our information.
Getting your medical identity stolen isn’t just a financial hassle. It can seriously endanger your health and cause trauma trying to undo the damage. Here are some major risks:
Wrong medical records: When a thief uses your ID to get care, their health history may get mixed with yours. This can lead to misdiagnoses and wrong treatments, especially in emergency situations.
Insurance nightmares: You may face denied insurance, gaps in coverage, or prematurely maxed-out benefits due to false claims filed by the thief. Fixing billing errors is a bureaucratic nightmare.
Hefty bills: You can get stuck paying charges worth thousands of dollars for procedures, treatments or equipment you didn’t receive. That’s money right out of your pocket!
Tarnished credit: Unpaid medical bills resulting from identity theft can wreck your credit score and dog you for years.
Difficulty getting proper care: Errors in your records due to someone else’s information can make it super hard for you to get the treatment you really need.
Major privacy violations: Thieves gaining access to your medical history, prescriptions, and diagnosis information is a huge breach of privacy.
Long recovery process: It takes an average of 200 hours of phone calls, paperwork, and stress to resolve medical identity theft. And in some cases, victims are never able to fully undo the damage.
As if all that wasn’t bad enough, a 2018 study found that victims lose an average of $13,500 each due to medical identity theft. It’s clear why we all need to protect our healthcare information!
Since medical identity theft can be tough to detect, keep an eye out for these common red flags:
- Bills for medical services you didn’t receive
- Calls or letters from debt collectors about medical debts that aren’t yours
- Explanation of benefits statements listing services you don’t recognize
- Medical collection notices on your credit report that you don’t understand
- Denied health insurance coverage for serious conditions you don’t have
- Reaching your health insurance limits unexpectedly early
- Errors or unfamiliar entries in your medical records
If you notice any of these issues, take action right away to limit the damage. The faster you catch it, the less havoc a thief can wreak!
If you suspect your medical identity has been compromised, follow these steps:
Review your records: Contact your healthcare providers to get copies of your medical records. Verify they are 100% accurate. Report any errors immediately.
Dispute errors: If there are charges or debts resulting from identity theft, dispute them in writing with healthcare providers and insurance companies. Provide evidence that they are fraudulent.
Place fraud alerts: Contact credit reporting agencies like Equifax to place fraud alerts on your accounts to prevent further misuse. Monitor your credit closely for new suspicious activity.
Report identity theft: File a report with the Federal Trade Commission at IdentityTheft.gov and your local police department. This helps establish that a crime took place.
Contact service providers: Reach out to any other organizations or services that may have received false information, like your pharmacy or Medicare. Update them with the correct details.
Change credentials: To prevent further damage, change the usernames and passwords associated with your medical and insurance accounts.
Create an action plan: IdentityTheft.gov provides a personalized guide with pre-filled letters and status trackers to help identity theft victims protect themselves and restore their identities.
This lengthy process is a total pain, but taking control quickly can help limit the damage. I’ve got your back if you ever need to walk through it!
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure when it comes to medical identity theft! Here are some smart ways to safeguard your healthcare information:
- Shred documents with personal info – Always shred medical paperwork, billing statements, prescriptions, insurance cards, and anything else with sensitive details before tossing it out.
- Protect your insurance cards – Don’t routinely carry your health insurance card. Make photocopies if you need one for appointments. Store the card securely at home.
- Watch out for phishing – Never give personal medical information to unsolicited callers or emails. Confirm legitimacy before responding.
- Use online bill pay – For maximum security, opt for paperless billing and pay medical bills online when possible.
- Verify websites before entering info – Only visit medical or insurance websites by entering the URL directly or using official bookmarks. Beware of phishing links.
- Limit info sharing – Don’t post health insurance details publicly online or provide them freely. Only share on a need-to-know basis.
- Check your credit reports – Routinely check your credit reports for any signs of fraudulent medical debts or collections.
- Examine your EOBs – Carefully read your explanation of benefits statements for any suspicious claims. Report errors right away.
- Use identity theft protection – Consider services like LifeLock that monitor your credit and personal info to detect fraud.
You guys won’t believe this nightmare I endured back in college!
I had gone to the student health clinic for a nasty case of strep throat. A few months later, I received a bill for an appendectomy worth thousands!
I was shocked and confused. After countless calls to the hospital billing department, my insurance company, and even the police, I learned someone had stolen my student health card and racked up major surgery charges in my name.
It was incredibly stressful tracking down the fraudster and clearing up the huge billing mess. But the whole ordeal taught me to fiercely protect my medical identity. I never leave home without shredding important documents and I monitor my credit like a hawk!
Hearing real-life examples of medical identity theft teaches us to be vigilant. Let’s look at a few cautionary tales from victims:
Stolen identity snowballs into tragedy: After an identity thief used 33-year-old Andrea’s information to obtain opioids, Andrea’s medical records falsely showed her as a drug abuser. This caused doctors to deny Andrea pain medication she legitimately needed for ovarian cysts. Her condition worsened, leading to death.
Hacker hijacks insurance: When Sue’s health plan sent breach notification letters, she ignored them. Months later, she discovered a hacker had used her insurance to get expensive dental implants and cosmetic surgery totaling over $25,000. Sue is fighting to get her plan to cover the fraudulent costs.
Trusting mom gets burned: Social media oversharing came back to bite Christine. She posted a picture of her insurance card to ask friends to recommend a doctor. An identity thief used the details to obtain prescription drugs in Christine’s name, costing thousands.
Breached database compromises coverage: Tyler’s health plan fell victim to a large database hack. Cybercriminals accessed his information and used it to submit over $100,000 in fake claims. Tyler’s insurance refused to pay for his leukemia treatment, saying his coverage limit had been reached.
As you can see, we must treat our healthcare information like liquid gold! A little mistake can have huge consequences.
Your vigilance is the best line of defense against medical identity theft. Here are some pro tips for monitoring your healthcare accounts and records:
- Carefully examine medical bills and EOBs – Verify all listed services and providers are ones you actually visited. Report any errors immediately.
- Request medical records annually – Do a yearly check-in to review your records from healthcare providers and flag inaccuracies. Proactively finding errors can prevent misdiagnosis.
- Check your credit report – Scan your credit report every few months for any collections or debts resulting from identity theft. Dispute fraudulent items right away.
- Set up account alerts – With your health insurer and Medicare, enable text or email alerts to be notified of any requests to access your online accounts.
- Use identity theft protection services – Companies like IdentityForce monitor your personal information and can alert you about suspicious activity indicating possible identity theft.
- Change passwords and security questions periodically – Update your logins and security credentials for healthcare and insurance accounts regularly to reduce the odds of hackers guessing their way in.
- Ask about health information security – When choosing providers and health plans, inquire about the steps they take to safeguard patient information and prevent breaches.
If you are dealing with medical identity theft or just want to learn more about protecting yourself, these resources can provide guidance:
- IdentityTheft.gov – Report identity theft and get a personal recovery plan with the FTC’s user-friendly website.
- FTC.gov – The Federal Trade Commission’s identity theft site offers tailored guides for different forms of identity theft, including medical.
- Credit reporting bureaus – Order your free annual credit reports from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion to check for errors. Report fraudulent accounts.
- HealthCare.gov – This site has pages dedicated to medical identity theft, with sections on protection, victim assistance, and rights.
- Medicare – Medicare has a page explaining how to protect your Medicare number and what to do if your Medicare identity is stolen.
- Health insurers – Contact your health insurance company for help disputing fraudulent claims on your policy and correcting your account.
- Local police – File an identity theft report with your local police department to aid in disputing fraudulent accounts.
- DoNotCall.gov – Add your number to the National Do Not Call Registry to reduce unsolicited calls from scammers seeking your personal information.
I hope this guide gave you the full scoop on outsmarting medical identity thieves! Remember these key tips: monitor your health accounts and credit closely, only share sensitive info when necessary, and act quickly at any sign of fraud. Here’s to protecting your good health and wealth. Stay vigilant out there!