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Preventing Medical Identity Theft

The latest form of identity theft could not only cost you money - it could also cost you your life. We spoke with Pam Dixon, the director of the World Privacy Forum, to find out more about medical identity theft and how to spot it.

What Is Medical Identity Theft?

Medical identity theft occurs when a person(s) assumes the identity of another individual in order to make false insurance claims, receive insurance benefits or obtain medical care or goods.

How Can It Affect Me?

Medical identity theft could result in incorrect information found in medical records or creating additional medical records in the victim's name. Unfortunately, this incorrect information could remain unnoticed for quite sometime and potentially influence future medical care for the victim.

What Can I Do To Prevent Medical Identity Theft?

Insurance Policies, Statements and Forms

Safeguard your insurance policy and health care provider papers, bills, statements, receipts, insurance cards — anything that has your personal data, financial, and health information on it. Treat your health information like you would your credit card information.

Shred all papers (using a cross-cut shredder) that list your account numbers or personal information.

If your insurance company uses your social security number as your identification number for policies, contact them and ask if it can be changed to an alternate number.

Carefully read every insurance bill or statement sent to you —even if it says "This is NOT a bill." Look for services, care or goods that you may not have received.

If you have a question about your insurance bill, call your insurance company's special investigations department. Most insurance companies offer toll-free numbers for you to call.

When calling, be sure to have your insurance card and the statement or bill with the error, on hand. You may also need to provide your name, phone number, social security number and billing address. Also, be prepared to explain the suspected problem in detail.

Every year, request a listing of all the insurance benefits paid under your name. This may also be referred to as "accounting of disclosures." According to the World Privacy Forum, one common tactic identity thieves use is to change your billing address and phone number without your knowledge. So be proactive, contact the insurance company directly and ask to receive a year long listing of the benefits paid.

To learn more about how to request this information, read the World Privacy Forum's tips on medical identity theft.

Medical Records and Statements

Keep your own medical history for yourself and your family. Track all contact details for doctors, pharmacists, dentists and other health care providers. It's hard to remember all past illnesses, medications, immunizations, allergies and names of each provider seen. Also, having this original copy may help in a medical identity theft situation.

Get in the habit of reading every medical bill or statement sent to you. Read it carefully, even if it says "This is NOT a bill." Look for services, care or goods that you may not have received.

If you have a question about a bill from a health care provider, contact their billing department.

When calling, be sure to have your insurance card and the statement or bill with the error available. You may also need to provide your name, phone number, social security number and billing address. Also, be prepared to explain the suspected problem in detail.

Every year, request an "accounting of disclosures" from your health care providers. According to the World Privacy Forum, one common tactic identity thieves use is to change your billing address and phone number without your knowledge. So be proactive, contact the health-care provider directly and ask to receive a year-long listing of your disclosures.

To learn more about how to request this information, read the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse's tips on medical identity theft.

Privacy Rights and HIPAA

Learn about your privacy rights. You may have heard of the word "HIPAA." HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which is an act that regulates the privacy of health information. Under HIPAA, medical records are kept private under certain circumstances but not all.

Learn more about HIPAA and visit the World Privacy Forum to read the detailed report on medical identity theft. You can also visit the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse and read more on HIPAA.

Remember, many victims don't notice the identity theft until years down the line, according to the World Privacy Forum's report. Why not look now at past statements and bills you may have kept? Also, take precautions now and keep a watchful eye over the security and accuracy of your future records, statements and bills.

What Should I Do If I Suspect Medical Identity Theft?

Start a folder for your records. Keep copies of all suspected documents.

Document all conversations including the date, contact name, title, organization, topics discussed and next actions to be taken.

If something doesn't sound right – for example, a mention of a past service that's listed in your medical records – ask about it. You should also request to see a copy of your medical records and you should also try to get your records amended.

For more information or if you are having trouble filing a request, visit the World Privacy Forum and read the detailed report on medical identity theft.

Notify your health insurance company and health care providers. Tell them what you've noticed and ask to verify any benefits paid out with them.

Be proactive. Don't wait for the company or healthcare provider to contact you. Be sure to follow up.

Additional Resources

Most insurance companies offer information on healthcare fraud and medical identity theft. Visit their web site or call their customer service line for more information

Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse (PRC) is a nonprofit consumer organization with a two-part mission: consumer information and consumer advocacy.

World Privacy Forum
The World Privacy Forum is a nonprofit, non partisan 501 (C) (3) public interest research group. The organization is focused on conducting in-depth research and consumer education in the intersecting areas of technology and privacy.

Identity Theft10 Tax Time Identity Safety TipsDon't let yourself become an identity theft victim – especially during tax time. Here are some top tips from WhatHappensNow.com and our interview with the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.Corporate Identity Theft A True StoryYou might think that identity theft only occurs when Mr. Joe Citizen is careless about his mail or other personal information. But anyone can be fair game for ID thieves. Detecting Identity TheftIf someone stole your wallet, or you have previously been the victim of identity theft, you will naturally be on the lookout for signs of identity theft. However, even if you don't suspect identity theft, you may want to keep an eye out for it.5 ATM Safety TipsAccording to the American Bankers Association, more than 10.8 billion people access cash from AMTs every year. Here are tips to keep your money safe.Identity Theft Fast Tips for What To DoIdentity theft is more than just a financial issue. It creates emotional stress. Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for information on how to network with other victims and deal with the impact of this crime.Preventing Medical Identity TheftThe latest form of identity theft could not only cost you money - it could also cost you your life.Protecting Your Identity OnlineHere are a few tips to keep your identity and finances safe while shopping online.