Government and Consumer Protection organizations alike are predicting medical identity theft to be one of, if not the most common, form of identity theft in 2011.
For several reasons, this is the identity theft scam that is most likely to go undetected. Because patients only occasionally get stuck with bills as a result of the crime, we pay less attention to our statements. Most often, we patients check the bottom line – the total due – and when that total is zero, we tend to ignore the rest of the statement. This is how we fail to catch bills for services we didn’t receive, or medications we didn’t need.
How does it happen? Medical identity thieves use myriad methods to obtain your social security number and insurance information. Sometimes these thieves develop relationships with employees at medical facilities. The more tech-savvy have honed their hacking skills and crack medical databases storing our personal information. Once obtained, this information is often brokered to identity thieves who use it to file false claims against your insurance.
As is always true with any type of identity theft, the best defense is a good offence. The World Privacy Forum suggests you take the following steps to protect yourself from this crime:
Review those ‘Explanation of Benefits’ statements. Keep an eye out for treatment or medical equipment/supplies you didn’t receive, or office visits you never made. Contact the facility where treatment was provided in the event something suspicious catches your eye.
Request a list of benefits. Ask your health care provider for a detailed list of benefits paid in your name on an annual basis. Fraudulent claims will alert you to potential medical identity theft and should be reported to your health care provider.
Request a copy of your files annually. Just like with your credit report, it’s much easier to review and understand your medical records if you’re looking at them on a regular basis. You’ll also spot what should – or shouldn’t – be on there in a flash if you’re familiar with them.
So when does medical identity theft take a turn from expensive crime to a potentially fatal disaster? Imagine someone poses as you at the hospital for medical treatment. Doctors take a patient history when determining how to treat an illness. The thief, needing his or her ailments treated, provides their medical history to the physician, not yours.
Important details about you, things like blood type, allergies, previous drug interactions, and pre-existing conditions – all of these are being provided to the physician by the identity thief. And all of this information is now part of your medical history, a history that will be used to determine how to care for you in the event you need medical treatment. If you have a serious medical emergency, incorrect treatment or medication could be administered, and that’s treatment that could cost you your life in the most serious circumstances.
Take the time to look through your statements…it really could save your life.
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