2 Keys to Avoiding Medical Identity Theft

Medical identity theft can be lucrative for criminals and disastrous for victims — and it’s on the rise. Here’s what you can do to prevent it.

Medical identity theft is on the rise — by nearly 22 percent last year alone.

That’s according to the latest annual study on this type of identity theft conducted by the Ponemon Institute for the Medical Identity Fraud Alliance.

Medical identity theft is also expensive, and recovering from the crime can be complicated.

The Ponemon Institute’s study found that 65 percent of victims had to spend money to resolve the issue — an average of $13,500.

That dollar figure sometimes included paying health care providers and insurance companies for medical services from which thieves benefited. It also included the cost of hiring identity service providers or lawyers to help resolve the crime and prevent recurrences.

Victims also spent more than 200 hours on average to resolve the crime.

On top of that toll, 10 percent of victims suffered misdiagnoses or mistreatment of illnesses because of inaccuracies in their health records resulting from medical identity theft.

Wrongdoers prefer medical identity theft to other types of identity theft for several reasons, according to Consumer Reports.

For starters, medical identity theft can be more profitable. Some reports estimate that stolen medical information sells for about $50 per record, according to the Consumer Reports story. That compares with roughly $1 or less for U.S. credit card numbers.

Also, stopping thieves from using health information can be especially difficult. When your credit card number is stolen, you can get a new one, rendering the old credit card information useless to thieves. But it’s not as easy to get a clean slate for your Social Security number or medical history.

Finally, preventing medical identity theft can be more difficult than stopping other types of identity theft. However, there are key steps you can take to protect yourself. They include:

1. Minimize your exposure. Guard your personal information as closely as possible. Consumer Reports states:

For example, don’t give your Social Security number to health care providers unless you must, and ask whether other information, such as your date of birth and driver’s license number, is really needed before you provide it.

Be especially wary when contacted by phone or email, as many victims of this year’s massive Anthem cyberattack learned. The person on the other end of the line or Internet connection could be a thief who already has some of your personal information and is using it to try to get more out of you.

Consumer Reports also advises encrypting and password-protecting digital records, and storing paper records under lock and key.

2. Review records regularly. Closely read all health-related correspondence and records. Ann Patterson, senior vice president at the Medical Identity Fraud Alliance, tells Consumer Reports that she suggests consumers do a monthly review of their records using online patient portals offered by health care providers and insurers.

Also, regularly check your credit report. Because the three credit-reporting bureaus offer one free report per year, Consumer Reports suggests getting one report every four months. And be sure to check out our recent story, FTC Launches Free Identity Theft Tool.

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Stacy Johnson

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