Protect yourself from medical identity theft
(MIAMI, February 28, 2012) – If you get a bill for medical services that you never received it may be a sign that your medical information could have been compromised. Another type of identity theft is medical identity theft where identity thieves use personal and health information to get medical treatment, prescription drugs and sometimes even surgery. Furthermore, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s top consumer protection agency, dishonest people working in a medical setting could be using your information to submit false bills to insurance companies. In fact, just this morning the FTC revealed its 2011 top complaint categories and for the 11th year in a row, identity theft topped the list.
So how do you know if you may have been a victim of this serious economic crime? Below are a few tips that may reveal signs of medical identity theft.
- You receive a bill for medical services you didn’t receive.
- You are contacted by a debt collector regarding medical debt you never incurred.
- Your credit report reveals medical collection notices you don’t recognize.
- You try to make a legitimate insurance claim and your health plan says you’ve reached your policy limits.
- You’re denied insurance because your medical records indicate a condition you don’t have.
Medical identity theft may alter your medical and health insurance records. When a person uses your identity to receive treatment, 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.
Unfortunately, there is no surefire way to completely avoid medical identity theft. However, you can minimize your risks by following a few tips offered by the FTC.
- Verify sources before sharing information. 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. Be suspicious of anyone who offers you free medical equipment or services and then requests your medical insurance information. If it's free, they don't need your number.
- Safeguard your medical and health insurance information. Guard your Medicare and Social Security numbers carefully. Treat them like you would treat your credit cards. 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.
- Treat your trash carefully. Since medical identity thieves may rummage 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.
If you believe you’ve already been a victim of medical identity theft, review your medical and health insurance records regularly. The thief may have used your name to see a doctor, get prescription drugs with your health ID number, file claims with your insurance provider, or done other things that leave a trail in your medical records. Try to review your health records for inaccuracies before you seek additional medical care.
- If your Medicare or insurance card is lost or stolen, report it right away. Call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) for a replacement card or your insurance company.
In addition, when visiting a doctor’s office, ask how they protect your personal information.
The Miami-Dade County Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Division suggests that you avoid sharing personal information like your Social Security number, insurance account information or any details of your health or medical conditions on the Internet or over the phone. However, 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).
If you think someone is misusing your personal information, contact the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-ID-THEFT.