This identity theft type comprises nearly 35% of fraud cases. Additionally, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2010, 7% of households in the U.S. had at least one member of the family aged 12 and over experience identity theft. That percent has only risen in the past 6 years. Additionally, medical identity theft can be extremely expensive to resolve. Victims will often pay thousands of dollars to clear their name and records, many times paying up to $13,500.
The federal government takes medical identity theft very seriously as well. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), passed in 1996, has very strong language and hefty fines for businesses that do not protect customer health data. HIPAA’s privacy rules are so strict and so complicated that many enterprise businesses employ professionals just to help them navigate the law, while many websites exist to help provide information on how to meet compliance.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) provides valuable information on different types of identity theft, including medical identity theft. There are some key issues involved with this type of identity theft that not only make it a concern for those who suffer from it, but for federal agencies as well. Key among these are:
- Medical identity thieves can access prescription drugs under your name
- Prescription drugs often have a significant street value when sold
- Prescription drugs can easily land into the hands of those who should not be taking them
- Victims of medical identity theft may have their medical records negatively impacted, as well as their credit report
It’s important to note that while you cannot fully prevent medical identity theft, there are ways that you can minimize your risk. Additionally, there are rights you do possess as an individual if you find that you are a victim of medical identity theft.
How to Prevent Medical Identity Theft
Preventing the theft of your valuable health information involves being both cautious and proactive. The FTC suggest the following steps to avoid having your health information stolen.
- Be wary of anyone offering free health services.
- Avoid providing personal information over the phone.
This comes with one stipulation: You might provide this information if you were the one that made the phone call. If you receive a call from anyone claiming to represent a doctor’s office, insurance company, hospital or the like that you do not recognize, ask for alternative ways to provide your information that are much more secure. Likewise, conduct your own research on the individuals and the company or organization they represent and utilize a reverse phone directory website to determine if the phone number is legitimate.
- Keep medical records in a safe place.
This includes both digital and physical copies of your medical data. Medical records on a computer should be protected in hidden and locked file folders, or only stored on removable flash drives that are kept in a safe location. Physical records should equally be kept in a safe and secure location. If you experience a burglary, make sure that these items are stored with the other valuables you most wish to protect.
Keep in mind that the healthcare industry is an extremely profitable one. What are the chances that someone is offering free medical services? Unless those free services are coming from an established organization or business, be extra cautious with accessing them. Particularly, if someone is advertising free healthcare services, they should have little to no reason to also ask for your medical identification information.
What to Do If You’ve Become a Victim
Despite the many safeguards you take, sometimes becoming a victim is simply unavoidable. However, acting fast when you believe you have become a victim of medical identity theft can help prevent the worst outcomes. If you believe, or know that you are a victim of medical identity theft, take the following steps:
- Acquire copies of your medical records. Under HIPAA(pdf), the same law that dictates rules for how businesses use and protect your medical data, you have the right to access your own information as well. If your medical records have been stolen, request your own copies. This way, you can check for irregularities and alert your insurance provider immediately. This may come at a cost, but the cost will be worth it to help stave off a much larger payment to resolve the issue down the road.
- Do not let the provider refuse your request.
In some cases, providers have refused the request for records in order to protect the identity thief’s records. While this may seem illogical, insurance companies can face hefty fines for giving out medical records to those who have no right to them, but will not face fines for not giving you access to your own records. However, be insistent. If they do not provide you with your information, contact the Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights. Note, however, that if this is your only alternative you will need to be patient. This process can take some time.
- Request the “accounting of disclosures” from your health care providers.
This is a record of who has the right to get copies of your medical records. By law, you are required to receive 1 copy of your accounting of disclosures, for free, once every 12 months. The accounting of disclosures should reveal if anyone beyond you and your medical providers has access to your information. Even if you are not a victim of medical identity theft, it is a good idea to request this information every year to keep a good accounting of your own records.
Medical identity theft, along with other forms of identity theft, is extremely devastating. Stay proactive in order to prevent becoming a victim. If you do become a victim, take action as quickly as possible.