Medical identity theft occurs when someone steals your personal identifying information, which may include your Social Security number, birth date, and/or Medicare number. They may even take your medical records entirely. They then use this information to commit healthcare fraud.
Types of acts that thieves commonly commit with stolen medical identifying information include: accessing and buying medications not prescribed to them (often addictive pharmaceuticals), getting health care services/seeing doctors, and submitting false claims to your health insurance provider (including Medicare). This type of identity theft is often committed against the elderly.
All of these actions will be done in your name by the thief who has your information. This means that as far as your insurance company or medical providers are aware, the claims are coming from you. They may amount to many thousands of dollars which are not covered by insurance.
Since they are in your name, you then become responsible for paying them. Medical debts may even be sent to collection agencies who will then pursue you to recover the bills run up by the person who stole your information.
It is no surprise, then, that medical identity theft can be extremely damaging to its victims. It can cause you not only to be pursued for medical costs accrued (in your name!) that you did not accrue yourself, but unpaid bills can also have a negative effect on your credit rating. A poor credit rating can influence your life in a number of ways, including making it very difficult to obtain various types of loans, including mortgages.
Additionally your life may also be at risk because your medical records might contain incorrect information related to a thief’s medical claims.
What are Some Common Ways to Your Identity is Stolen?
Much of the medical identity theft that takes place is committed by healthcare employees. Employees in healthcare facilities have easy access to patients’ medical records and other identifying information. The employees may use the information for themselves, or they may resell it for someone else to use fraudulently.
Another method thieves may use is coming up to you in a public area, like a parking lot or mall, and offering to provide you with free services, groceries, and transportation in exchange for your Medicare number.
An additional fraudulent method used by thieves is a phone call by an individual pretending to be conducting a health survey, and in the process, requesting your Medicare number. You should never give your Medicare number, or your Social Security number to someone you don’t know well. These numbers are extremely important identifying information, and, in the hands of thieves, could wreak havoc on your life.
How Can You Determine Whether You Are a Victim of Identity Theft?
There are a few things you can do when trying to figure out if you have been the victim of medical identity theft. You may notice that your medical bills reflect charges that you did not incur yourself. You may receive calls from collections companies regarding medical bills for services you did not receive.
Unusual notifications from your health insurance company may be a clue that someone has been tampering with your identity. Your credit report may also reflect activity that is unrelated to any charges you personally incurred.
How Can You Reduce Your Risk of Medical Identity Theft?
As mentioned in the previous section, unusual charges or notices regarding your medical costs/debts can be clues that you have been the victim of medical identity theft. However, it is good to be proactive and try to prevent theft from every occurring, if it has not so far. Here are some things you can do to reduce your risk of medical identity theft:
- Never give out your social security or Medicare numbers in unusual situations. This includes sharing the information online. Be wary of scams.
- Request and review your medical records to determine whether any unusual activity has taken place. Keep copies of your records for yourself so you have proof if someone alters them or uses them fraudulently.
- Monitor your insurance benefits. Review the Explanation of Benefits (EOB) papers that come in the mail from your insurance company.
- Monitor your credit score and if necessary, be prepared to put a freeze on your credit score.
What If You are a Victim of Identity Theft?
If you find that you have already been the victim of medical identity theft, you need to take steps to handle the situation. The first thing to do is contact your medical provider. if there is nothing they can do to resolve your problem, you should contact your health insurance provider (which may be Medicare). You should file a report of identity theft with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
You can also file a police report. Your insurance company should be notified when you do these things. You may also need to put a hold on your bank accounts to prevent any further fraudulent charges.
Should I Consult an Attorney If I am a Victim of Identity Theft?
Sadly, if you are a victim of identity theft from an unknown identity thief, then there is little you can do but file a report with the FTC and contact your bank, credit card companies, etc. If you know who stole your identity, then you can file a report with your local police department.
If your local police department refuses to press charges, then your next option would be to file a lawsuit in civil court with the help of a identity theft lawyer. But keep in mind, proving identity theft is not easy and it is unlikely that you will be able to reclaim anything you lost through the civil court system. Either way, be sure to file a report with the FTC and any institution that deals with your finances or personal, sensitive information.