More than 1.5 million Americans have had to pay dearly.
Mention identity theft, and chances are most people would recognize one of the most dangerous realities of the information age. Yet a recent Nationwide survey reveals that just one in six insured adults are aware of an equally dangerous and fast-growing subset of that phenomenon—medical identity theft.
As the term implies, medical identity theft involves thieves stealing medical and financial information, which is then used to illegally obtain or pay for health care treatments, buy prescription drugs or submit false insurance claims in your name. Medical identity theft can have a serious impact on your personal, financial and medical well-being. Identity theft could even impact the treatments you receive, if erroneous information winds up in your records as a result. In some cases, false medical records can result in a patient being denied or losing coverage.
Despite the danger, the Nationwide study showed that 75 percent of respondents trust the accuracy of their own medical records. “While most people are very careful with their Social Security number to protect their credit and personal information, they tend to be less careful when it comes to their medical information,” says Kirk Herath, Nationwide's chief privacy officer. Yet the World Privacy Foundation reports that medical identity theft has affected 1.5 million Americans at a cost of more than $30 billion.
Here are some steps you can take to help avoid becoming the next victim:
- Carry only the identification you need. Keeping all of your ID cards on you just makes it all that easier for thieves to steal your identify if your wallet or pocketbook is lost or stolen.
- Take your SSN off the card. Your Social Security number doesn’t need to be on your health insurance card. Your health insurance company will give you a new participant number upon request.
- Shred liberally. When you’re ready to discard them, run your charge receipts, insurance forms and physician statements through a cross-cut shredder.
- Review your records. Request to see your medical records periodically, and verify that they are correct.
- Closely monitor any "explanation of benefits" sent by health insurers.
- Proactively request a listing of benefits from your health insurers.
- Request a copy of current medical files from each health care provider.
- If you are victim, file a police report.
- Correct erroneous and false information in your file.
- Keep an eye on your credit report.
- Request an accounting of disclosures.