When you think about the dangers associated with identity theft, you likely imagine shadowy criminals using your financial information to apply for credit cards or take out loans. While these actions can devastate your credit score—and often take years to repair—there’s another hazard that goes beyond that important number. It’s the theft of your medical identity, and according to experts at the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) in San Diego, more than 1.8 million Americans became victims of this crime in 2013.
In fact, according to the ITRC, stealing medical insurance information and using it to obtain treatment and medication or submit false billings is the fastest-growing type of identity theft. Reports of the crime are increasing at an annual rate of 32 percent, and unlike credit cards—which offer some protection should you discover bogus charges—you’ll be on the hook for the costs incurred.
These costs can be quite large. According to the Ponemon Institute, which studies medical identity theft, 36 percent of the victims of medical identity theft encounter out of pocket insurance costs that average $18,660. Some have even lost their insurance or been charged higher premiums as a result.
While you cannot prevent data breaches or ensure criminals will not steal your personal information directly from a medical professional’s office, you can take the following steps to promptly spot and address problems.
Read your mail. Whenever you receive a letter from your health insurance carrier or your medical provider, review it carefully. If you notice listed doctors, treatments or facilities that are not familiar, notify your carrier immediately.
Request an annual list of benefits. Once a year, ask your insurer to provide you with a list of the benefits paid out in your name for the previous 12 months. Verify that all the information included on that list is accurate.
Check your credit report. Of course, you should already be doing this to look for other signs of identity theft. Unfamiliar medical collections included in the report may indicate medical identity theft. Contact the major credit-reporting firms immediately if you discover one.
Keep your health insurance numbers confidential. You wouldn’t give your credit card or social security number to just anyone, so don’t hand out your medical plan number either. Avoid health fairs or free screening kiosks that request your insurance information. Never give your number over the phone (unless you’ve called the insurer’s direct line yourself). And if you lose or misplace your card, contact your insurance provider as soon as possible.
Request a copy of your medical file. While you may have to pay for this service, ask your doctor to provide you with a copy of everything in your medical file. This is your “paper trail” in the event that you must dispute charges for visits or treatments you did not receive.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, medical identity theft is already a multi-billion dollar industry. Don’t become a victim. Protect your health insurance information, review all related records carefully, and contact me today about investing in identity theft insurance.