Alliance tackles soaring incidence of medical identity theft: Internet Scambusters #589
Latest research shows incidents of medical identity theft are approaching the two million per year mark, after soaring 20% in a single year.
A new alliance between the healthcare industry, consumer groups and the public sector aims to tackle this crime urgently through education and lobbying.
But, in the meanwhile, there are 10 things you can do to reduce the risk of becoming a victim, as we report in this week's issue.
Let's get started...
10 Actions to Avoid Medical Identity Theft
A united effort has been launched to tackle medical identity theft, which now affects almost two million Americans every year.
Public and private sector organizations, consumer groups and medical agencies have joined forces under the umbrella of the Medical Identity Fraud Alliance (MIFA) with the aim of tackling this insidious crime -- but it's an uphill battle.
So, what do we mean by medical ID theft?
This is how the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) describes it: "A thief may use your name or health insurance numbers to see a doctor, get prescription drugs, file claims with your insurance provider, or get other care.
"If the thief's health information is mixed with yours, your treatment, insurance and payment records, and credit report may be affected."
We've written about it before in our article Medical Identity Theft: A Scary Form of Identity Theft Few People Even Know About.
But the scale of the problem is rapidly rising.
Research findings published towards the end of 2013 by MIFA and the well-respected Ponemon Institute showed that the number of people in the United States impacted by the crime jumped from 1.52 million in 2012, to an estimated 1.85 million -- an increase of around 20%.
The study also showed that half of all survey respondents did not take any steps to protect themselves, mostly because they didn't know how to.
Says MIFA: "Few people think of themselves as having a medical identity and thus the idea of someone stealing their medical identity is not even on their radar screen.
"For example, if you ask someone what steps they would take to reduce the chance of identity theft if they lost their wallet, they would tell you that they would cancel their credit cards, contact their bank if they have a debit card and apply for a new driver's license.
"Rarely, would they mention alerting their health insurance company to take measures equivalent to canceling a credit card. What the public does not yet realize is its medical identities have a significant street value and that a nefarious individual can easily gain access to medical services through the use of their stolen medical identity, the result of which can cause them great harm."
Another interesting finding was that a sizeable proportion of incidents -- 30% -- were actually perpetrated by the "victims" themselves, through sharing their medical insurance details with friends and family.
Even so, the majority of victims were genuine, losing their medical ID information through theft by family members, insiders (people within the health industry), phishing and hacking of records.
The study says the average cost to those who were out-of-pocket as a result was $18,660. And repairing the damage caused took up to a year, although in some cases victims were never able to fully put things right.
The FBI reports that, overall, healthcare fraud in the United States costs us -- the taxpayers -- $80 billion a year.
What You Can Do
While there's a lot that service providers and others who have access to our protected health information (PHI) can do to tackle medical ID theft, there's plenty that we as individuals can do too. For example:
- Always check statements from your health insurer, including Medicare. Don't ignore them just because you owe nothing.
- Carefully read the explanation of benefits (EOB) in statements and contact your insurer if there's anything that doesn't look right -- including the amounts billed even for treatment you received.
- Be alert for other signs like bills for services you haven't had, unexpected notification that you reached your benefit limit or denial of claims for a condition you don't have.
- Don't share your medical insurance details with anyone else, including friends and extended family members.If you do intentionally share, so they can use your insurance, you're breaking the law.
- Don't be tempted by offers of "free" medical services that involve giving your insurance details to providers you don't know.
- Don't assume that a caller (on the phone or at your door) is who they say they are. ID thieves may pretend to be from health insurance companies.Ask for their credentials and say you'll get back in touch. Then independently check them out.
- Protect your insurance card the same way you would your credit cards and report any theft or loss immediately to your insurance company.
- Shred medical and insurance documents once they are no longer needed. Don't just toss them in the garbage.Learn more about shredding in our article, Shredding: A Key Weapon in Your Document Security and Identity Theft Prevention Strategies.
- Ask for a copy of "accounting of disclosures" from each of your medical services providers.It shows who they sent copies of your medical records to. You're entitled to one free copy per year.
Finally, educate yourself more about the risks of medical ID theft.
Read the FTC's guide, Medical Identity Theft.
It'll also tell you what to do if you discover your information has been stolen, wrongly recorded, or otherwise compromised.
An important point to remember is that medical insurance does not usually come with the same benefits as credit and debit cards.
With cards, you're usually not responsible for fraudulent use after theft. With medical identity theft, you could end up badly out of pocket.
That's all for today -- we'll see you next week.