April 10, 2011 – 1:15 am
Could identity thieves be using your personal and health insurance information to get medical treatment, prescription drugs or surgery?
Could dishonest people working in a medical setting be using your information to submit false bills to insurance companies?
Medical identity theft is a twist on traditional identity theft, which happens when someone steals your personal information. Like traditional identity theft, medical ID theft can affect your finances; but it also can take a toll on your health.
The Ill Effects of Medical Identity Theft
How would you know if your personal, health, or health insurance information has been compromised? According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, you may be a victim of medical identity theft if:
* you get a bill for medical services you didn’t receive
* a debt collector contacts you about medical debt you don’t owe
* you order a copy of your credit report and see medical collection notices you don’t recognize
* you try to make a legitimate insurance claim and your health plan says you’ve reached your limit Â Â on benefits
* you are denied insurance because your medical records show a condition you don’t have
Medical identity theft may change your medical and health insurance records:
Every time a thief uses your identity to get care, a record is created with the imposter’s medical information that could be mistaken for your medical information – say, a different blood type, an inaccurate history of drug or alcohol abuse, test results that aren’t yours, or a diagnosis of an illness, allergy or condition you don’t have. Any of these could lead to improper treatment, which in turn, could lead to injury, illness or worse.
An Ounce of Prevention
While there’s no fool-proof way to avoid medical identity theft, the FTC says you can take a few steps to minimize your risk.
* Verify a source before sharing information.Â Don’t give out personal or medical information on the phone or through the mail unless you’ve initiated the contact and you’re sure you know who you’re dealing with. Be wary of offers of “free” health services or products from providers who require you to give them your health plan ID number. Medical identity thieves may pose as employees of insurance companies, doctors’ offices, clinics, pharmacies, and even government agencies to get people to reveal their personal information. Then, they use it to commit fraud, like submitting false claims for Medicare reimbursement.
* Safeguard your medical and health insurance information.Â If you keep copies of your medical or health insurance records, make sure they’re secure, whether they’re on paper in a desk drawer or electronic in a file online. Be on guard when you use the Internet, especially to access accounts or records related to your medical care or insurance. If you are asked to share sensitive personal information like your Social Security number, insurance account information or any details of your health or medical conditions on the Internet, ask why it’s needed, how it will be kept safe, and whether it will be shared. Look for website privacy policies and read them: They should specify how site operators maintain the accuracy of the personal information they collect, as well as how they secure it, who has access to it, how they will use the information you provide, and whether they will share it with third parties. If you decide to share your information online, look for indicators that the site is secure, like a lock icon on the browser’s status bar or a URL that begins “https:” (the “s” is for secure). Remember that email is not secure.
* Treat your trash carefully.Â To thwart a medical identity thief who may pick through your trash or recycling bins to capture your personal and medical information, shred your health insurance forms and prescription and physician statements. It’s also a good idea to destroy the labels on your prescription bottles and packages before you throw them out.
Next week: Detecting Medical Identity Theft, How to Bounce Back from Medical Identity and Other Steps to Consider
For more information please visit: Federal Trade Commission