Most people are unaware of the growing threat of medical identity theft but it can be serious if someone steals your protected health information (PHI), otherwise known as your “medical identity,” to gain access to medical services, to procure drugs, or to defraud private insurers or government benefit programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.
Your medical identity consists of your health information such as medical history, allergies to drugs, blood type, prescriptions, and of course your social security number and health care provider.
The transformation to electronic record-keeping has made it easier for some to obtain your PHI by some but most often, the theft is done by someone close to you.
In a recent Survey on Medical Identity Theft published by Ponemom, it was found that the thief is most likely to be someone the victim knows very well. In the study which surveyed 700 victims of medical identity theft, most cases result not from a data breach but from the sharing of personally identification credentials with family and friends. Or, that family members take the victim’s credentials without permission.
If someone uses your medical information, such use could contaminate the your health records with erroneous information such as blood type, serious health conditions, and prescription drugs.
Also, if a friend or family member uses your medical insurance to obtain treatment, you could become liable for the amount of the charges not covered by the insurance and possibly all of the charges once the insurance company realizes fraud was involved. Receiving a bill from a medical provider might be the first sign that something is wrong and should be acted on quickly.
Jack was an Army Reservist who was called for duty in Afghanistan. When he left, he put his medical insurance card form his employer in his dresser drawer for safe keeping. While he was away, his brother, Bob, who had lost his job and therefore his health insurance, used Jack’s card to obtain medical treatment for a serious illness.
When Jack returned from service, he was almost terminated from his job for letting his brother use his card while he was away. Of course he hadn’t but he had to go through the pain and effort of clearing his records while his brother was prosecuted for stealing medical services.
All of this could have been avoided if Jack kept his medical insurance card in a safer place.
How to keep your medical identity safe:
- Keep your records in a lock box
- Don’t share your records, even casually with another family member unless it is absolutely necessary
- If you do share your information, keep a record of what information you shared and with whom
- If you lose your wallet containing medical information, be sure to report the loss to your insurance company right away so your account can’t be breached
We all should be aware of the negative consequences of a medical identity theft and take steps to safe-guard our data.