What is Medical Identity Theft and How Bad is it?

Medical identity theft occurs whenever someone steals your personal information in order to obtain medical care, prescriptions or health insurance. Many times, this crime goes undetected, which is why it is difficult to determine how widespread this practice is. Even so, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has recognized it as a growing threat, and has taken steps to warn American citizens about it. Whether you are a tenured nurse or someone going to school for their RN BSN online degree, you can be a victim of this theft.

Medicaid and Medicare recipients are often targeted for medical identity theft in a variety of manners. They may be approached in supermarkets, libraries or other public places, and be offered free services in exchange for providing their benefits number. Phone solicitors could call asking for information for one of their “surveys”, or they could also claim to be a representative from the Social Security office. You should never provide your benefits number to anyone unless you are able to identify them, and are sure they have a valid reason for needing it.

Common Signs

When it comes to medical identity theft, here are a few things that might indicate you have been a victim:

Receiving a bill for medical services you did not receive

An Explanation of Benefits that reveals care you did not receive

Denial of benefits due to a “pre-existing condition” you do not actually have

Attempts to collect payment for medical bills that aren’t yours

Calls from a medical clinic advising you of missed appointments that you never made

Preventing Medical ID Fraud

You should take measures to protect yourself from medical identity theft just as you would regular identity theft. Safeguard your personal information so that would-be thieves cannot easily gain access to it. You should also check your medical records often for errors so that you can address them quickly if they are discovered. Always check your Explanation of Benefits carefully, and contact your insurance company immediately if you discover that procedures you never received have been billed for. Use caution when enrolling in “free” services or treatments, as these are often scams that are designed to lift your medical information for the purpose of identity theft.

If Theft is Discovered

If you do discover you have been the victim of medical identity theft, you need to take measures to clear this matter up as quickly as possible. Notify your health care provider and insurance carrier right away so that they can look into fraudulent claims. You may also contact the inspector general’s office within the Department of Health and Human Services, along with the Federal Trade Commission’s identity theft hotline. If you receive Medicare or Medicaid, you are obligated to report this matter to your local Social Security office as well.

Medical identity theft is a growing threat, yet unfortunately is one that many people are not yet aware of. Just as you monitor your credit report regularly, you should also keep a close eye on your medical records in order to catch this problem early on and prevent major damage that could ultimately affect the care you receive.

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