By now, you’ve probably heard countless harrowing tales about identity theft. After all, according to the Federal Citizen Information Center, it’s the fastest growing crime in the U.S. A Gartner Research study reports that another consumer becomes a victim of identity theft every two seconds.
Once they fall prey to this insidious crime, identity theft victims often suffer financially, professionally and even emotionally. Unfortunately, there’s a specific type of identity theft that can cause a person even more harm: Medical identity theft.
TAKING OVER YOUR MEDICAL CHARACTER
When an identity thief steals your insurance card from your wallet or somehow gets hold of your social security number and insurance information, he or she can then receive medical care and file false insurance claims under your name. This could not only lead to financial troubles, but also health record inaccuracies that endanger you in the future.
For example, let’s say an identity thief who has stolen your wallet takes your insurance card to a doctor and claims to be you. His blood type, drug allergies and pre-existing conditions are likely different from yours and, once this data is recorded, it will be mixed in with your medical files. If you then go to a hospital for care, you could receive the wrong diagnosis or treatment based on the thief’s medical history. What’s more, because the thief is receiving treatment under your name, you might suddenly find that you’ve reached your insurance payment maximum. Or you could become altogether uninsurable because of claims filed by the thief.
Another side effect of medical identity theft? Professional problems. You might have a hard time finding a job based on medical conditions that thief has — under your name, of course.
HOW DOES IT HAPPEN?
Having your insurance card stolen isn’t the only way you can fall victim to medical identity theft. Some health care workers have been caught selling patient information to identity theft rings. The health care industry works hard to keep this from happening, but it’s practically impossible to guarantee that no worker with access to patient files would ever make such an unethical choice.
DETECTING MEDICAL IDENTITY THEFT
Identity theft experts say that victims typically don’t realize they’re victims until they receive an “explanation of benefits” notice from their insurance company for services they never received. Unknowing victims might also receive calls from collection companies asking them to pay suspicious medical bills or might notice strange activity on their credit reports.
Unfortunately, once you detect medical identity theft, the problem can be hard to shake. Even with an identity theft police report, some victims have a tough time convincing collection agencies that they did not receive the medical care. Many victims also struggle to correct their health care files under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Although this act was created to protect the privacy of patients, it often creates some tricky obstacles for victims looking to resolve medical identity theft problems.
FEW CASES, BUT ENOUGH TO CAUSE CONCERN
According to the Federal Trade Commission, more than 8 million Americans were victims of identity theft in 2005. Of those, only 3% had their information misused so the thief could obtain medical treatment or supplies.
However, while medical identity theft remains a relatively small threat, there have been enough cases to cause concern in the health care industry and the government. The U.S. Health and Human Service Department recently hired the strategy and technology consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton to study the magnitude of the country’s medical theft issues. In addition, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association recently announced that its anti-fraud investigators prevented $134 million from being spent on false medical claims in 2007. They also recovered almost $115 million paid on fraudulent medical claims, including some made by medical identity thieves.
In an effort to stop medical identity theft, some health care providers are asking patients to show their driver’s licenses or another photo ID along with their insurance card at doctor’s offices.