We’ve all heard stories of identity theft. Maybe it’s happened to you personally, or to someone you know—the credit card security breach at a national retail store, a compromised card reader at the local gas station, or just bad luck dropping your wallet or purse on a hectic morning commute causing the contents to be scattered. Whatever the situation, any of these can leave you vulnerable. But did you know that identify theft is becoming more prevalent in the health care sector? The Medical Identity Fraud Alliance recently published “The Growing Threat of Medical Identity Fraud: A Call to Action.” The white paper reports that in the past five years, the number of data breaches in the medical sector has quadrupled. What was once thought to be a problem of medical insurance fraud at the hands of fraudulent insurance agencies or health care employees has become an opportunity for hackers to get their hands on lots of personal information.
- Medical identity theft is financially lucrative, proving to be even more profitable than just financial information on the black market.
- Secure technology in the health care sector is behind the times, just now showing signs of improving.
- Health records are information-rich, allowing the hackers to know large amounts of information about you (social security number, health condition(s), physical appearance, financial institution information).
- Information is stored in multiple locations, often in bits and pieces ( i.e. ambulance services, emergency services, physician services, radiology services may all have pieces of information in a health emergency).
- There is a growing number of possible targets as more individuals are able to afford health insurance.
- The stakes are financially higher in medical identity theft. In a 2013 Ponemon Institute survey on medical identity theft, although only 36 percent of such victims incurred out-of-pocket costs, those who did paid out $19,000—far more than the $50 liability limit for fraudulent credit card charges.
- The stakes are personally higher. A person who has to meet medical requirements for a job could be fired if his or her records are tarnished by a theft with conditions that are attributed to the employee. A parent whose file is compromised by a drug addict could lead to protective services removing child(ren) from the home.
- Although an “Explanation of Benefits” sent from your insurance agency can be hard to understand, is it important to read them for accuracy.
- Pay attention to calls coming from debt collection agencies or reports of default accounts on your credit report. Catching these discrepancies may prevent the fraud from traveling too far or over a more extended period of time.
- Check your medical records regularly for inaccuracies and shred information that is not needed.
- Confirm the identity of individuals seeking health care information. Additionally, although many health agencies may ask for your social security number, they are often not necessary.
Healthcare consumers don’t need to fear the possibility of medical identity theft. By being aware of how it happens, and preventative measures you can take, you’ll be acting proactively to protect your identity.