Medical identity theft is costly, and it’s on the rise in the United States.
According to a new study by the Medical Identity Fraud Alliance, medical ID theft surged 22 percent in 2014, leaving more than 2 million victims in its wake. It also cost consumers more than $20 billion in out-of-pocket expenses last year.
Ann Patterson, senior vice president and program director at MIFA, said in a statement:
2015 will be a year of increased attention to the pervasiveness and damaging effects of medical identity theft. As we’ve already seen this year, the health care industry is and will continue to be a major target for hackers. Stolen personal information can be used for identity theft, including medical identity theft, and the impact to victims can be life-threatening.
Medical files, which contain permanently identifiable information such as Social Security numbers and birth dates, are enticing to hackers because they can bring in big money. Stolen credit card information might get $1 on the black market, while medical records can fetch $50 minimum per record.
Stolen medical information can be used to rack up bills for medical services and prescriptions. Victims’ health records can also be altered, as medical care received by a criminal is added to their victims’ medical records, NBC reports.
It’s rare that victims of medical identity theft are notified by their doctor or insurer, so it’s often months before victims realize their information has been stolen, the study said. Most medical identity theft victims find out about fraudulent activity three months after the fact.
Robert Siciliano, an online safety expert for Intel Security, told Forbes that medical identity theft is particularly harmful to its youngest victims.
Unfortunately, it’s the kids that can be the most affected by medical identity theft. They often don’t find out about it until they get out on their own and begin to apply for health insurance or, as they get older, life insurance. The premiums they encounter as result of an earlier medical identity fraud can be among the highest available and often take years to straighten out.
The MIFA report analyzed medical identity thefts that occurred in 2014, so the recent Anthem hack – by far the biggest health care data breach in the United States, compromising more than 80 million Americans’ medical records – was not included.
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Damage from identity theft can take place through a variety of channels. Watch the video below for some tips on minimizing your risk: