Medical identity theft can occur in a number of ways, including but not limited to:
- Someone in the doctors’ office being part of an organized theft ring
- Theft/loss of purse or wallet with health insurance card in it
- Opportunistic burglar coming across your health insurance information and uses to obtain medical services or sell your health ID on the black market.
- An unscrupulous doctor using your ID to bill for services not performed.
- A family member/relative/friend with no health insurance using your health insurance for obtaining medical services.
Unfortunately, the detection of medical identity theft is not easy. Most of the time patients find out that they have been a victim of medical identity theft when they receive notices for unpaid bills from their insurance company for services they did not receive or need. So what common precautions can consumer take to prevent or minimize their risk of medical identity theft?
The Federal Trade Commission( FTC) recommends these steps to minimize risk:
- Do not 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.
- Keep copies of your medical or health insurance records in a secure place.
- Be on guard when you use the Internet, especially to access accounts or records related to your medical care or insurance. Avoid sharing sensitive personal information like your Social Security number, insurance account information or any details of your health or medical conditions on the Internet.
- 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).
- Do not share your medical information via regular email because it is not encrypted and is therefore insecure.
- Treat your trash carefully as a thief 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.
- Destroy the labels on your prescription bottles and packages before you throw them out.
- Paying close attention to your medical, insurance and financial records can help you spot discrepancies and possible fraud. Read the Explanation of Benefits (EOB) statement that your health plan sends you after treatment. Look for the name of the provider, the date of service, and the service provided.
- Order a copy of your credit reports and review them carefully for unknown charges.
Patients also should be aware of who is around them when they visit a doctor’s office and not leave their insurance information lying around in plain view. Unfortunately, one can only take limited precautions where medical identity theft is concerned. The very nature of the healthcare service necessitates different people coming in contact with your health information once it leaves your hand. However, being vigilant about your medical records and taking common precautionary measures can minimize the risk of medical identity theft.