Written by Alayna Okerlund | Last Updated February 24th, 2020Alayna Okerlund is a finance-focused Senior Content Strategist at BestCompany.com. Over the past three years, Alayna's finance-related research has helped readers feel more financially confident. She has worked with several reputable experts and has provided content for a variety of well-known publications like Forbes, Reader’s Digest, Lifehacker, and more.
Identity theft has become increasingly more common in recent years. When people hear the term "identity theft", the image of someone sitting in a dark basement surrounded by computers might come to mind. Unfortunately, the majority of identity theft criminals operate in significantly more subtle circumstances, making them very difficult to locate. Although general identity theft has been occurring for quite some time, a more recent category of identity theft has brought an entirely different level of worry to the public: medical identity theft.
What Medical Identity Theft Really Is
Medical identity theft is a specific category of identity theft crime that involves the stealing of a name and/or health insurance numbers in order to obtain prescription drugs, use the victim’s insurance provider to file claims, get appointments with doctors, or receive other health-related care. Although medical identity theft has been a major problem in the past few years, it continues to be the form of identity theft that many people still don’t know about.
Identity theft and scam expert Rob Douglas explained that "of the many types of identity theft, medical identity theft poses the greatest risk to the physical safety of victims." He also went on to say that "once a medical identity thief fraudulently obtains healthcare in your name, and that treatment becomes part of your electronic healthcare record, your healthcare may be placed in jeopardy. After all, your medical history, current and future diagnoses, and treatment could be compromised because of the treatment the identity thief received."
Why the Medical Field Is Targeted
There are a few reasons behind why identity theft criminals are focusing in on the medical field:
One reason corresponds with the lifespan of the crime itself. Stolen medical data is significantly more difficult to retrieve or cancel than financial data. For example, if a person’s medical records are stolen, the victim cannot simply put a hold on or cancel their medical history like they can with a credit card. Therefore, the identity theft criminal can use/abuse the stolen information for a longer period of time.
Another reason why medical identity theft has risen in popularity is due to the medical field’s relatively recent action of switching to digital storage of health information. Medical organizations began digitalization just a few years ago, which ultimately puts the medical field behind in setting up reliable security measures. This lack of digital experience allows the medical field to be an easier target for medical identity theft hackers.
The third motivation behind medical identity theft lies with the vast amount of people that can be targeted through medical institutions. Millions of people’s information can be found in medical databases, which makes the medical field a definite target. Basically, the more people seek health care, the more information there is to be stolen. Health care data greatly outnumbers that of financial data.
How to Avoid Being the Victim
Knowing how to avoid identity theft in general can save someone from unnecessary trouble, therefore, understanding what to do in order to avoid medical identity theft can be even more worthwhile as the repercussions of medical identity theft can be more devastating than regular identity theft.
Regularly monitor your medical records and know how to look for errors or false information.
Be cautious with whom you share your health information with. Strive to only give your medical information to trusted medical professionals.
Try to refrain from using free, public wifi services. If you do use public wifi, do not access any private information, especially medical data.
Be wary of free medical services/treatments as they can be a part of a medical identity theft scam.
Contact insurers and providers regarding health care charges and bills that were not received. It’s a good habit to do this even if your insurance covers procedures/medical visits.
In addition, Douglas recommends that you "carefully review any letter or document you receive from healthcare providers, facilities, and insurers to be certain the information is accurate and that there are no billings for treatments you didn't receive." He also suggests that you "ask your healthcare providers to not use your Social Security number as your personal identifier on their records." Douglas explained that "by restricting who has your SSN and insurance account numbers, you can lessen the risk of medical identity theft."
What to Keep in Mind
Medical identity theft is a frightening reality that affects millions of people. Although it may seem impossible to avoid, simply being aware that medical identity theft exists can put you ahead of the game. Catching and reporting medical errors/red flags early on can save you from disastrous consequences. Online resources can also save you from becoming just another name on the long list of medical identity theft victims by helping you locate a reliable identity theft company to monitor your personal information.