By now, you should know to keep the prime details of your financial life, such as your Social Security number and your bank account number, safe and secure.
But what about your medical information? This data, such as your health insurance card or your medical records, is another important key to your life. And it contains details that scammers and identity thieves want.
“There is a growing marketplace for the sale of this kind of illicit information,” said Christine Arevalo, vice president of healthcare fraud solutions for ID Experts in Portland, Oregon. “Health care data is very, very valuable right now.”
So far this year, the Identity Theft Resource Center has identified 273 data breaches in the medical and health care field, which represents 42.4 percent of data breaches. More than 7.48 million records have been compromised.
More than 34 million people have been affected by health care data breaches concerning information that is protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“Medical identity fraud does have a very real consequence to consumers,” Arevalo said.
Thieves can use your information, such as your health insurance identification number, to obtain medical services. You might not notice it until it shows up on your credit report or when debt collectors call, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
A scammer’s use might lead to a notice from your health plan saying you’ve reached your benefit limit. That’s not a welcome note when you try to use your health insurance.
There are ways to protect yourself. Arevalo said. ID Experts says:
• Treat your health insurance card as carefully as your Social Security number or credit card information. If it’s lost or stolen, notify your insurance company and make sure you note it on any police reports.
• Never share your insurance with friends or a family member. It’s not just fraud. When someone pretends to be you, it can alter your lifetime medical records and can result in future misdiagnosis or prescription mistakes.
• Read your insurer’s explanation of benefits letter. It can show the first sign of trouble, such as a charge for services you didn’t receive. Unfortunately, some people don’t read them. “It’s not a bill, there’s no money there,” Arevalo said. “You shred it. You throw it away.”
• Properly store and destroy sensitive electronic and paper copies of your records. Shred outdated documents, including old prescription labels.
• Never accept an unsolicited offer for free medical care. Scammers may try to lure you into giving out your medical insurance information so they can make fraudulent claims.
• Watch how your doctor’s office treats your records. Is your paperwork sitting open on desks?
Do you have a consumer problem that needs solving? Contact David P. Willis at 732-643-4042, firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/dpwillis732.
Fixing the problem
If you think you are a victim of medical identity theft:
• Get copies of your medical records from each doctor or health care provider you have. Federal law give you the right to the information.
• Find out with whom your medical provider shared your records, a document called an accounting of disclosures.
• Write to your health plan and medical provider and point out the errors. Be sure to sending supporting documents. Ask the provider to delete or correct each error.
• Contact the credit reporting agencies to make sure there are not other problems.