The internet can be a dangerous place, particularly when sensitive personal information, such as medical records, are involved. One such internet-based crime is medical identity theft, which can become a living nightmare for unlucky victims. One of the most common problems associated with this kind of ID theft is having your credit rating damaged. If your medical information is tampered with, you may encounter life-threatening consequences when you access medical care and possibly end up with thousands of dollars in medical bills.
We hope this never happens to you, but here are some medical identity theft detection and prevention tips – just in case.
Medical Identity Theft – What Is It? Medical identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal health-related information without your knowledge or consent for acquiring medical treatment, submitting claims or obtaining goods and services. These thieves target personal information including your name, Social Security number (SSN) or health insurance ID.
How to Detect Medical Identity Theft The easiest way to stay vigilant when it comes to medical identity theft is to regularly check your medical purchase history. Take a visit to the hospital where you get your medication and ask if any purchases were made on your account. You don’t need to do this all the time, but check when you have a suspicion that your identity has been compromised. Also, don’t throw away receipts so that you can keep track of your purchase history.
The Three Main Sources of Medical Identity Theft
- Hackers: There are people who earn money by selling personal and medical information to those who want to use another person’s identity to obtain medical goods and services. Additionally, the recent increase in the prevalence of electronic health records, or EHRs, is giving these hackers a greater chance of illegally accessing private information.
- Friendly Fraud: This threat occurs when a family member or a friend illegally uses the identity and medical information of another person. Studies show that approximately 33-50 percent of all medical identity theft is committed by victims’ family members or friends. Friendly fraud may also occur when an employee gives out a plan number or insurance card in an attempt to help a friend in need.
- Providers: Identity thieves may come in the form of dishonest staff from the offices of healthcare providers, including doctors, nurses, receptionists, technicians or other individuals. These criminals steal your private information with the intention to sell what they have gathered to those who will assume the victim’s identity. They can also use your information to fool insurance companies into paying out false claims.
How to Prevent Medical Identity Theft Preventing medical identity theft may not be as difficult as it seems. Besides keeping your information as secure as possible, your best defense is to always be vigilant and review your bills, medical records and insurance information carefully. Here are several tips you can follow to help prevent medical identity theft:
- Watch your medical records for accuracy. Check all your mail, email and records related to your healthcare. Review statements and other communications from your healthcare providers and insurance company closely, checking for any strange or suspicious items and services. In many cases, identity thieves may accidentally add their own information to your records. Monitoring your own medical history is an ideal way to nip thefts in the bud.
- Keep your information secure. Make a point to share as little personal data as you can. The less information you give out, the less there is to be used against you. Sometimes, sharing sensitive information is not necessary, so only give this kind of data on a need-to-know basis. It’s always a good idea to flat out ask if information such as your driver’s license, SSN and date of birth are really required to process you as a patient. Lastly, always be careful about storing your medical information, whether digital or physical, and take the necessary steps to keep it from leaking.
- Learn to spot phishing emails. Phishing is an illegal practice where unauthorized persons attempt to trick individuals into revealing private information, such as passwords, SSNs, credit card and bank account numbers. This is accomplished by installing malware on your connected devices or send legitimate-looking emails claiming to be from reputable companies. Learn to spot phishing emails by verifying the email address from which the email was sent. After clicking on a link provided by an email, ensure that the domain in the address field is the same company you believe you’re dealing with. When in doubt – if something looks suspicious – ignore or delete it.
- Avoid using public WiFi. Public WiFi can be notoriously unsafe. However, people still choose to use it and put themselves at risk. Know that any time you access information via a public network, anyone else using the service can see the information you are sending. The sites you visit, the text you send and your login information are all put on display for identity thieves to see. It’s best to avoid using these networks and/or limit your use to casual browsing without entering sensitive information. In instances when you absolutely need to log in to a public wireless network, be sure that your firewall is turned on and you have up-to-date malware protection. You can also consider using a virtual private network (VPN).
Millions of people are faced with the threat of medical identity theft on a day-to-day basis. If you become a victim, the repercussions may be devastating to both you and your family. As soon as you notice something that isn’t right, it’s best to resolve the issue immediately. Always remember these safety precautions to help decrease the chances of these security breaches.