Medical identity theft rising: Steps to protect yourself
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[October 05, 2012]
(ARA) -- Two million Americans
fall victim to medical identity theft each year, according to a
study by the Ponemon Institute, commissioned by Experian's
ProtectMyID. While medical identity theft costs victims an average
of $22,346, the potential impact can be far greater -- medical
identity theft could cost some victims their health, or even their
Medical identity theft involves the theft of personal information --
such as your name, Social Security number or Medicare number -- to
obtain medical care, purchase drugs or submit false claims to
Medicare. The crime can damage a victim's credit rating and even be
life-threatening if it causes incorrect information to appear in a
victim's personal medical records, warns the U.S. Department of
Health and Human Service's Office of the Inspector General.
According to the study, while more Americans now understand just
what medical identity theft is, few are taking the key steps that
could help prevent it. Only 57 percent of survey respondents check
their medical records for accuracy, and nearly 1 in 5 (18 percent)
say they don't care about the accuracy of their medical records.
"There are specific things that people can and should do to
protect themselves from medical identity theft," says Ken Chaplin,
senior vice president of ProtectMyID. "People have to be vigilant
with their personal information and avoid letting their guard down,
even with family and friends."
The Federal Trade Commission recommends you take these steps to
help prevent medical identity theft:
Before you share
medical information with anyone, verify who you're talking to.
Never provide information over the phone or through the mail
unless you initiated the contact and you're confident you're
dealing with a legitimate organization. Be aware that medical
identity thieves often try to scam consumers by posing as
representatives of insurance companies, doctor's offices,
pharmacies and even government agencies.
information. Keep paper copies of medical or insurance records
and forms in a secure, locked file or drawer. When managing your
health or insurance accounts online, be wary of any site that
asks you to share sensitive information like your Social
Security number, insurance account number or details of your
medical conditions. Look for the hallmarks that a website is
secure, including a web address (URL) that begins with "https"
(the "s" stands for "secure") and a lock symbol in the lower
right-hand corner of the page.
Picking through trash is a common ploy
of identity thieves. Shred your discarded health insurance
forms, bills and medical records before disposing of them.
Destroy the labels on your prescription pill bottles and
packages before throwing them away.
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The OIG also offers tips for medical identity theft protection,
Medicare and Social Security numbers and cards as carefully as
you would your credit cards.
Be wary of anyone
who asks for your Medicare number in exchange for "free" medical
equipment or services. If what they're offering is really free,
they shouldn't need your numbers.
Never let anyone use your Medicare ID
card. The Ponemon survey found that a growing number of survey
respondents (5 percent more in 2012 than in 2011) have allowed a
family member to use their personal identification to obtain
medical services, including treatment, health care products or
pharmaceuticals. Doing so is against the law, and may afford
unscrupulous individuals the chance to use that information for
According to the Ponemon survey, it takes, on average, about a
year to resolve an instance of medical identity theft, and a quarter
of the survey respondents said it took more than two years. As with
a serious medical issue, resolution can be made more challenging
depending on how long the problem is allowed to fester.
Take an active role in protecting your medical information from
identity thieves. Check your medical records regularly and keep an
eye on all your financial and credit accounts. Products like
ProtectMyID can help. A comprehensive identity theft detection,
protection and resolution product, it can help you prevent the
damages caused by identity theft.
"Medical identity theft hits consumers both medically and
financially," says Dr. Larry Ponemon, chairman and founder of the
Ponemon Institute. "For three years in a row, our findings have
consistently shown that medical identity theft crime continues to
increase in terms of prevalence and costs to the victim."
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