I’ve been writing and commenting on identity theft for many years and rarely has this angle ever come up but it’s one of the scariest ones that I’ve seen to date. Did you even know that you have more than one identity? Well, you do. Medical identity theft is defined as the illegal use and access of a patient’s personally identifiable information (PII) to obtain medical treatment, services or goods. Here are some scary scenarios that have actually happened to real people who have been victims of Medical Identity theft.
- Imagine you have an emergency, are taken to the hospital unconscious and when you get there, the medical records that show under your profile, are mixed up with someone else’s records that’s been getting treatment falsely under your name. Will they give you the right treatment, medications or even diagnosis?
- Imagine a bail bondsman showing up at your house to arrest you because someone was buying copious amounts of opioids using your name.
- Imagine being at risk of losing your children because someone used your medical identity to give birth and had a drug problem.
- Imagine your insurance denying you treatment because your medical records are tainted and they show a health condition that you don’t even have.
- Imagine getting a notice from your health insurer telling you that you’ve reached your maximum benefit limit before getting actual live saving treatment you do need and are insured for?
- Imagine checking your credit and seeing medical collection notices for treatment you didn’t receive.
Scared yet? You should be.
These and many other nightmare scenarios have been suffered by real people whose medical identities have been stolen. I recently visited the Dr. Juan show on Univision to talk about this and didn’t have enough time to cover all the points, so I wanted to elaborate but, first things first.
How can you lose your medical identity?
Just like your credit identity, your medical identity is not always in your hands. Doctors, hospitals and insurance companies have access to this information so a rogue or sloppy employee at any of them could jeopardize it but this is not something you control. What can you control? Imagine losing your wallet which has your insurance ID or Medicare card. What do you do? Of course, you report it to the police and cancel your credit cards but… do you remember to cancel your medical insurance ID and ask for a new one? Most people don’t but this is definitely something that you do control and that could prevent thieves from stealing your medical identity.
Credit cards have gotten very good about detecting fraud and cancelling or putting your account on hold when they see any suspicious activity. I know this well, apparently I do a lot of suspicious things with my own identity since I do this very dubious activity called “travelling” and when I get to my destination, I pour gas, eat something and by the time I get to the hotel I get the infamous look from the hotel front desk employee accompanied by those terrifying words… “Sir, your credit card didn’t work, could you please try another one?” Of course, they say it in a low voice but trust me, everyone waiting in line heard them and gave you “the look” but I digress.
The point is that the only time you really find out what’s been happening with your medical identity is when you get those medical or insurance company statements that many times have clearly printed in the front “This is not a bill”. What do I normally think when I see this? This must be trash… but it’s not. These are the boring non-statements you need to read carefully to make sure that there is nothing fishy going on. Here are some tips:
Protecting your Medical Identity
Read the statements from your doctors, hospitals and insurance companies as if they were credit card statements, go over transaction by transaction and don’t be afraid to call and ask if there is something you don’t understand.
- If you lose your insurance or medical ID, make sure to include it as part of the police report you file and call your insurance company so they can issue a new one.
- If you receive a call from a collector about a medical bill from a treatment you didn’t receive, don’t ignore it.
- Get copies of your medical records by contacting your health care providers.
- Do not share your medical information or insurance details with anyone asking for it via phone or e-mail unless you are the one initiating the contact so you don’t become a victim of a phishing scam.
- Make sure to login to your insurance company’s website so you can stay up to date with your benefits and recent medical claims.
What to do in case you detect suspicious activity?
- Be prepared to be very patient, this is not an easy process and you are the only one that cares to resolve this. Get ready for long hold times, red tape and insane amounts of BS.
- Contact your insurance company or health care provider immediately and report any issues you find with your medical records. Be detailed and document everything, who you called, when, what their name was, time you spoke, everything… leave no small detail behind.
- If your purse or wallet was stolen and you got a police report, make sure to share that with them as well.
- If this affected your credit, put a credit freeze and fraud alert on your credit file with the 3 major credit bureaus. Do share any information regarding the fraud and copies of your police report of ID theft report if it got that far.
- Do get your free annual credit report and look at it to detect suspicious medical activity.
- Be careful with health fairs or other establishments offering free health screenings or other services that require your medical information.
You can’t be protected 100% but if you are careful, you can minimize the chances of having your medical identity stolen. These problems are like any disease, if caught early, there is a higher chance of success just be prepared to be patient, very patient. Which funny enough, that’s what they call us in the medical profession. I wonder why?