Most people have heard about "identity theft" but they may not be as familiar with its less-promulgated "cousin": medical identity theft. Although less publicized, medical identity theft is not a small problem.
In fact, it involves thousands of victims, over $40 billion in losses, and a variety of problems with far-reaching and monumentally serious consequences.
What is Medical identity Theft?
Simply put, it involves the stealing of personal information in order to submit false medical claims, obtain medical services under assumed identities, and qualify for benefits and privileges these persons would not otherwise be entitled to. Although the aim may not be to permanently assume someone else's identity or even steal personal possessions, this type of crime can be as destructive as identity theft (which usually does involve the theft of property and, if they can get away with it, long-term use of someone else's identity).
Victims of medical identity theft can have their credit seriously damaged (to the point of requiring years of expensive litigation to get cleaned up), their medical history compromised, the loss of certain privileges (e.g., not qualifying for life insurance because of, say, an erroneous diagnosis of cancer, diabetes, etc.), and even difficulty in holding on to or getting employment (because of now erroneous information in their medical histories).
Some people may even fail to qualify for the best health insurance plans or have to pay extra premiums; this may persist until erroneous medical information is repaired.
What Can You Do to Protect Yourself?
In order to avoid falling victim to this pernicious crime, consider implementing or adopting the following precautions:
- Regularly obtain copies of all medical records; aggressively address any incorrect information.
- Keep an eye out for "free medical devices/services" offers--such can be used to lure you into providing personal information later used against you.
- Think before you sign any "medical authorization" forms; will such information be shared too loosely or unrestrictedly?
- Don't send medical information through e-mails or as electronic attachments; while convenient, this approach is very easy to breach by competent hackers.
- Carefully examine all health insurance notices, bills from creditors, or any health-related communication; if you spot inconsistencies or inaccuracies, immediately voice a formal challenge.
- Treat medical information the same way you treat financial information--as such, place such in safe places; take note of any documents missing from your personal belongings (especially if you suspect that someone has breached your privacy). Report any lost health-related documents (e.g., health insurance cards) immediately to the appropriate agency/company.
- Maintain a tally on and records of anyone officially receiving your medical information; keep a logbook, if possible.
- Do your best to skip participation in health studies, screens, contests, or surveys, especially when such are conducted online or by phone by people you never met; you may be volunteering information best kept to yourself.
- Don't share personal medical information online or by phone, unless you know the people collecting such and trust their motives; even if you know and trust them, can they guarantee that a third party might not eventually obtain such information?
- Don't forget to regularly look over your credit reports; immediately address any medical transactions which you cannot remember, never authorized or doesn't make sense.
Fortunately, many healthcare providers are now exercising more care when it comes to processing patient transactions. For example, they may ask for identification, especially from new patients or if the cashier is not familiar with a patient.
This is being spurred by new laws and policy initiatives meant to reduce medical identity theft, especially in relation to illegal aliens and those profiting from providing false documentation/identities to them.
In spite of these efforts, however, medical identity theft is still going on. For one thing, some of the perpetrators consider this a "victimless" crime--most notably because they assume that the insurance companies will ultimately end up paying.
Of course, this twisted mentality will do little to fix your potentially damaged credit and the other losses you may incur.
For your part, the best thing you can do is take all necessary steps to avoid becoming a victim. By being prepared, when/if you do become a victim, you can take actions sooner, thereby curtailing the damage or, at the very least, preventing some of the nasty consequences.
Copyright, 2015. Fred Fletcher. All rights reserved.
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