Fighting Medical Identity Theft in the Internet Age

Medical identity theft is a fast-growing subcategory of what has become one of the biggest crimes in the world. Thieves steal the name, health insurance policy number, and records of unsuspecting people and utilize that information to see doctors, get prescription drugs, file claims with the victim’s provider and garner other medical attention.

Unfortunately, the Internet has made it far too easy for thieves to operate this way. They have found and continue to seek ways to break firewalls and trick consumers into revealing sensitive information.

Signs of medical identity theft

Here are some of the most common signs that someone may have stolen your medical identity.

  • You receive bills for medical services you didn’t get.

  • Collectors contact you about medical debts you shouldn’t have.

  • You receive mysterious medical collection notices.

  • Your health insurance provider notifies you that you’ve reached your benefit limit when you haven’t.

  • You’re denied payments because records indicate you’ve falsified a medical condition.

Be prudent

Don’t ignore your medical and insurance statements. Examine them and make sure you know what every payment was for. Verify that you know the provider, the medical facility, service date, and what service was provided.

It’s easy to forget such details since bills will show up weeks, even months later, so get in the habit of not just writing down appointments but noting what happened afterwards. If you ever see wrong information on a statement, report the issue to your health care provider immediately.

Protect your medical identity

Unless you initiated the contact, never give your health plan ID number to anyone who’s not an authorized representative of your provider. This is invaluable information to medical identity thieves.

This warning especially applies to email and other web communications. Include your birthdate on the list of sensitive information. You’d be amazed what a scammer can learn and do with just that much.

The web is an easy place to launch a scheme, and there are many people only too ready to believe what they see. Bogus websites offer health services and products, often for free, but require that you provide your health plan ID number or other info. There’s no end of tricks they’ll attempt.

Avoid providing information such as health ID or Social Security numbers, or specifics about your health, to any website before finding out why they need it, whether they will share it with third parties, with whom and, if it’s legitimate, how your info will be protected.

Be sure to read any terms and conditions as well as their privacy policy. One good rule is to check your browser’s status bar for a lock icon or see if the URL starts with https. That crucial last letter stands for secure site.

Protecting your medical identity requires your careful attention. By federal law, you can always request copies of your medical records. Watch for errors and question anything that seems out of place. Also, once a year you’re entitled to see your medical accounting of disclosures, which provides details about your medical information and what’s done with it.

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