The other day I got a phone call from my credit card company, asking me if I had been in going on an erratic shopping spree in another town. I hadn’t, but someone, somehow had gotten my credit card number and was using it for all kinds of purchases, from gas to prescription drugs.That’s a pretty common problem these days, but it’s usually not hard to resolve.
Now there’s a new issue: medical identity theft. Fraudsters get their hands on your health insurance card, creates an out-of-state driver’s license with your name and their photo, and in some cases even gets a credit card in your name, too. Then they start using it for health care exams, medications, procedures and even surgeries.
Where do they get your health insurance card? Breaches in physician offices, clinics and small hospitals — and possibly clinical laboratories and diagnostic centers, too — allow the data on health insurance cards to slip into the hands of strangers.
Experts estimate that there are about 2 million victims of medical identity theft in the United States every year, representing at least $40 billion in costs.
It’s not hard to see how this can happen. After all, most medical offices don’t always check your identification; they just ask for your insurance card and make a quick copy of it.
The issues are more than financial. You can end up with a medical record in your name that is full of another person’s data and health problems. Not only might that cause a confusing — or dangerous — interpretation of your medical health (like listing the fraudster’s medical history, blood type or allergies as yours), the data could make you look like a higher risk individual when applying for health or life insurance. The fraudster’s pre-existing condition could masquerade as yours.
What can you do to prevent medical identity theft?
- Experts say your best bet is to scour every single “benefit statement” you get from your insurance company to make sure that each visit, diagnostic and lab test, prescription and all procedures and surgeries were indeed yours.
- Report any questions or errors immediately, and monitor your credit report at least annually, ideally quarterly.
- Be sure to track your own healthcare costs and if you notice you have suddenly and surprisingly reached your deductible, contact your health insurance company right away.
- Create a strong password for logging into your health insurance account. (Strong passwords aren’t based on your name, birth date or address, are longer that 6 characters, and have a combination of letters, numbers and symbols).