Identity theft is one of the most common forms of cybercrime. We hear it in the news such as when celebrities have their Twitter accounts taken over. What we usually think of as identity theft is changing as criminals find more creative ways to use our personal information. While credit card fraud, or obtaining new credit (or loans) in another person’s name is still a massive part of identity theft, there are many others. Another type of identity theft can cause even more harm to consumers than vanilla fraud attacks. Medical identity theft can cause long term lasting effects on your life, and in some cases, could lead to your arrest. If you have never heard of medical identity theft, read on and learn how to protect your own information from attacks.
Medical identity theft is growing fast
A quick search of Google will reveal many different stories of people who have had their medical records stolen and then used for fraudulent services. Because of the growing opioid crisis in the US, this type of identity theft is seeing a significant rise. This is because while each piece of our personal information is valuable to identity thieves, medical information has a special value. Why is that?
In the opioid crisis, thieves are stealing medical identities so that they can get additional prescriptions. While prescription fraud isn’t new, it has risen as of late. This is especially dangerous for those who have a legitimate need for these medications and have had their identities stolen. Imagine going to the pharmacy and denied your medications because you had been identified as someone who has been trying to obtain multiple prescriptions at pharmacies all over town.
Other risks associated with medical identity theft
Thieves will use your medical identity to seek treatment without having to pay for it. This all goes under your medical record and you will be given the bill to pay.
Imagine going to the doctor for a normal office visit and being asked the status of your STDs. A case in Utah shows how this can be taken further if the victim of fraud is identified as having a drug dependency.
A mother of 4 nearly lost her children when her medical records showed she had drug addictions and other activities that made her seem unfit to be a mother. Her identity had been stolen and her medical records had been updated with the thief’s information. The thief had used her medical identity to seek treatment and had even given birth. Because of that, the victim was flagged as being a danger to her child. When police showed up, they were shocked to find out that the victim didn’t have a baby but instead had 4 grown children. To top it off, she wasn’t a drug addict.
The sad case of Ms. Ford
Ms. Ford’s car was broken into and her purse was stolen. She canceled her credit cards and then went about getting a new driver’s license and insurance card. After that, she forgot about it. Two years later, she received a call from a bail bondsman that she was about to be arrested for going to local pharmacies to get more than 1,700 opioid prescriptions. She was arrested for the charges and processed. A judge later dismissed the charges because she was able to show the police report she filed after the theft of her purse. The police department didn’t believe her even though she had the police report. That turned out to be the only thing that saved her from jail.
How can your medical identity be used?
Criminals are always coming up with new and more creative ways to abuse identities when stolen. Here are the most common ways:
Family members – A family member that steals your medical identity is very common since they may have easier access to your insurance card. Some people have shared their own insurance cards with family members to allow them to get medical coverage. This isn’t identity theft, but it is fraud.
Receiving treatment – Thieves can use your insurance card, along with fake forms of identification, to receive medical care from healthcare facilities. The bill will be sent to the insurance company and if there is any patient responsible payment, you will be billed.
Purchasing medications – As what happened to Ms. Ford above, a thief uses your identity to obtain prescriptions of controlled substances.
Protect yourself from medical identity theft
To detect identity theft using your credit, get a copy of your credit report. That will allow you to see any accounts that may have been opened in using your information.
The first step is to check your credit report and make sure that is clean. A credit report can’t prevent medical identity theft but it can still help. A credit report can reveal show any unpaid medical bills or any judgments that may have been filed against you. This would be a huge red flag of medical identity theft.
The next step is to check all EOBs you receive to make sure that you don’t notice any treatments that you didn’t actually have performed. If you do notice this, contact your insurance company immediately.
If you find anything incorrect on your medical records, be sure to get them corrected. Contact your physician and let them know about the items that are incorrect. Ask them to remove or follow up on them.
If your credit cards, driver’s license, and insurance card, are ever stolen or lost, file a police report. This will help you to untangle the damage that the thief may do. This step is very important as we saw with the case above of Ms. Ford. A police report is often needed when disputing any charges that may accumulate.
The best defense against all forms of identity theft is vigilance. Keep control of your identification cards and watch over your credit and medical histories. Fixing the issues that can happen can be very expensive and time-consuming to resolve. Following these steps should help you protect yourself from medical identity theft.