We’ve all heard about identity theft and the negative effects it can have on consumers if they are held responsible for transactions made by identity thieves. Consumers are often told to take extra measures to protect their credit cards or bank accounts from being breached, and now the same should be said about medical insurance information.
A survey from the Identity Theft Resource Center finds that over 40 percent of all identity thefts in the nation were related to medical identity theft for the 2013 year. In addition, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services finds that nearly 30 to 70 million peoples’ medical records have been at risk since 2009.
But what is medical identity theft? According to the World Privacy Forum, medical identity theft happens when someone steals your medical insurance card number and uses the benefits in your name. This can range from getting a prescription, medical products or even medical services.
Like financial identity theft, when someone uses your medical insurance benefits it can be very difficult to get that particular medical history off your record. Some cases can even be life threatening.
A report from the Medical Identity Fraud Alliance stated that almost 50 percent of medical identity theft victims lost their health insurance coverage in 2011. In addition, nearly 20 percent of theft victims were mistreated for an illness because of an inaccurate medical record that same year.
The statistics shrink slightly for the 2012 year, however, the MIFA study finds that the number of overall medical identity theft victims has increased substantially since 2010. Though there’s been a lot of coverage on the issue, research shows that most consumers are still unaware of what medical identity fraud is (about 42.5 percent).
“This suggests that new ways of educating people are needed since the news, word of mouth and actually falling victim to this crime is still leaving such a significant part of the population unaware of medical identity theft,” the authors wrote. “One new possibility for outreach could be for hospitals, health insurance companies and medical providers to help educate patients…”
Some signs of medical identity theft – as the Bureau of Consumer Protection points out – include the following:
- Getting billed for medical services you didn’t receive.
- Receiving a call from a debt collector for medical payments you do not owe.
- Discovering inaccurate treatments or office visits in your provider’s EOB (explanation of benefits) and more.
“Read your medical and insurance statements regularly and completely,” the Federal Trade Commission wrote in a statement. “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.”
For a list of what to do if you become a victim of medical identity theft or think you may be at risk, see the World Privacy Forum’s website for answers to some common questions.