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Are You Really the Patient? Medical Identity Theft Facts You Didn't Know

Jul 30, 2008
The public has become more armed against the threats of identity theft. While identity thieves can steal individuals' money, ruin their good credit and cause years of aggravation and stress, an alternative form of identity theft, medical identity theft, can actually threaten lives.

Medical identity thieves steal and misuse other people's personal information including their name and insurance card account numbers without the person's consent and usually without their knowledge.

The Scary Truth about Medical Identity Theft

Your medical and insurance records follow you and when false information is added to your medical records, you can be at risk when you are treated in the future. Doctors may make decisions about your treatment and medications based on a fictitious medical history and this can put your health at risk. Not to mention that the insurance companies will have noted false "pre-existing conditions."

As more and more medical communities rely on electronic records, the information is more likely to follow you on a larger scale and some believe this trend makes it easier more medical records to be compromised.

What can a thief do with your medical identity?

Medical identity thieves may use other people's information to obtain medical care, prescription items or to make fraudulent medical claims.

A medical identity thief without insurance who wants a surgery or prescription drugs can use your information, get what they want and leave knowing you and your insurance company will get the bills.

Some medical identity thieves are motivated purely by money. Thieves can collect large amounts of money, even millions of dollars, by making these false medical claims.

Don't Ignore a Medical Billing or Insurance Statements

Don't assume a medical bill or insurance statement for services you didn't get is just a mistake. It could be the first sign that someone has stolen your medical identity.

Joe Ryan, a Colorado resident, got a hospital bill for over $40,000 for surgeries and treatments he never received. This wasn't a billing error. An ex-con had used Ryan's medical identity to check into the hospital and obtain extensive medical care. Two years later, Ryan was still trying to undo the damage to his medical records.

You may not learn about a medical identity theft from a bill. Brandon Reagan, who stationed in California, learned that his medical identity had been stolen and used in South Carolina when his mother called and told him he was the lead suspect in a car theft. Reagan had lost his wallet in South Carolina and a thief used his military i.d. and license to test drive cars and then steal them. In addition to getting Ryan on a wanted list, the thief also used Ryan's medical identity to go the hospital on several occasions to get treatment for injuries and kidney stones. The medical bills were close to $20,000.

Even though the identity thief was finally arrested, Reagan was left with a nightmare. His medical records in South Carolina were full of false information and his tax refund check was withheld due to the unpaid hospital bills still in his name.

Sketchy Law and Statistics on Medical Identity Theft:

Laws dealing with medical identity theft are still not thorough or consistent from state to state. Many Federal laws that were intended to protect confidentiality actually make it more difficult for you to access and correct your own medical records. Wide scale investigations into medical identity theft are just beginning but in 2005 there were over 8 million victims of identity theft and three percent, 249,000 of those involved medical identity theft.

Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum warns, "Medical identity theft causes terrible harm, both financial and physical."

How can you protect yourself from medical identity theft?

- Get a copy of your medical records for comparison in case they are compromised in the future.

- Annually request a list of payments made for your medical services from your insurance company.

- Review your Explanation of Benefits (EOB) as they are provided by your insurance carrier to determine their accuracy.

- Check your credit report at least once a year for any unusual unpaid charges.

- Research and report any suspicious medical bill or insurance statements.

Protecting your identity is more important than ever. It's not just your money, time and credit that could be at risk if your medical identity is stolen, your health could be at risk as well.
About the Author
Lisa Carey is a contributing author for Identity Theft Secrets: prevention and protection. You can get tips on Identity theft protection, software, and monitoring your credit as well as learn more about the secrets used by identity thieves at the Identity Theft Secrets blog.
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