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Guest Post by Kayla Matthews
Identity theft is a concept we're all familiar with. Commercials on every channel advertise services that can protect you from this type of theft and help you recover if someone steals your identity. What these services don't focus on is medical identity theft, which is becoming more common because it's easier and more lucrative than stealing social security numbers or credit cards.
Why is medical identity theft so popular?
First, it has to do with the information itself. You can't just cancel your medical history like you can with a stolen credit card. Even if you detect theft, the thief can continue to utilize the data for a longer period. The switch to digital medical data storage has actually made it easier for hackers to steal privileged information, especially if the source isn't familiar with the kind of security measures that could help to keep that data safe.
Finally, it's all about the numbers. Not everyone has a credit card or the kind of credit that's worthwhile for identity thieves. Everyone, from the youngest infant to the oldest retiree, has a medical history, which means the potential theft pool is much wider.
With this in mind, what are the most common kinds of medical ID theft?
1. Free treatment scams
Thieves might use your medical information to receive treatment because they don't have or can't afford their own insurance policies. While this may seem innocent enough, it's still a type of insurance fraud and could cause you to lose your health coverage, increase your premiums, or even ruin your credit history.
Warning signs of free treatment scams may include the following:
- Inaccuracies in your medical records
- Denied coverage because of preexisting conditions you don't have
- Sudden changes or increases in insurance premiums
- False records that could become dangerous if doctors are basing your treatments on them
- Negative impacts on your credit history as the thieves run up huge hospital bills on your credit
- Loss of healthcare coverage
You might also encounter individuals attempting to steal your medical information by offering you free treatment opportunities. Do not provide your personal information over the phone to anyone, especially things like your social security number or other identifying data that could help the criminal steal your medical records.
2. Prescription drug theft
Medical ID thieves might not need medical treatment, but that won't stop them from making off with your protected information. Sometimes, they'll use your medical history to obtain prescription drugs they'll either take themselves or sell on the black market to make even more money.
Many of the warning signs for this specific type of theft are similar to the free treatment scams. One thing that is different is that you may find it harder to obtain any controlled substances you take if your medical records indicate that you've already received them — especially with new laws restricting opioid use in the face of the epidemic that's gripping the country.
3. Fraudulent treatment invoicing
The third most common medical identity theft is becoming more common every year, so it's important to recognize the warning signs of each type of theft and know how to protect yourself.
This type of medical ID theft is invoicing for fraudulent treatments. This one is even more nefarious than other methods because medical professionals may be involved in the theft in exchange for a portion of the profits.
This type of medical ID theft is often difficult to detect until it comes back to bite you. You may find yourself paying for treatments you never received, or maxing out your healthcare coverage for the year when you need it most.
How can you avoid medical ID theft?
What steps can you take to avoid a threat like medical ID theft?
To start, pay close attention to the Explanation of Benefits that you receive from your insurance company. Don't just glance over it — examine it closely to make sure that everything on your EoB is something you've received. If you see something that looks wrong, call your insurance provider immediately.
At the end of the year, you can request a list of benefits paid throughout the previous calendar year from your insurer. Go over this, as well as your credit report to ensure that there isn't anything amiss. Medical bills will show up on your annual credit report, even if you're not the one who received the treatment.
The bottom line
If you suspect that someone has stolen your medical information, the first thing you should do is contact a healthcare lawyer to find out what your options are. They'll have the experience and the knowledge to walk you through every step of the process, from putting a freeze on your credit to reclaiming your medical history.
If you are a victim of medical identity theft, file a report with both the police and the Federal Trade Commission.
Kayla Matthews, a tech and security journalist, has written articles for sites including WIRED, Information Age, Security Boulevard, and the National Cyber Security Alliance. To see more of her work, follow her on Twitter @KaylaEMatthews or check out her tech blog, Productivity Bytes.