August 28, 2014 by Lisa Brammer
According to a recent report by Javelin Strategy & Research, every two seconds an American falls victim to identity theft and the number of victims in 2013 increased by 500,000 to over 13 million people.
Since data breaches, like the ones seen at Neiman Marcus, Target, and UPS stores, are happening more frequently the odds of having your identity stolen have gone up. And while the media is focused on reporting payment card and business breaches, like the one announced yesterday, another type of identity theft is becoming pandemic—medical identity theft.
“Medical identity theft is the fastest growing component of ID theft,” says Drew Smith, founder and CEO of InfoArmor, a business-to-business privacy management company. According to a survey by the Identity Theft Resource Center 43 percent of identity theft in 2013 involved medical health records.
Why? According to the FBI, health information is easier to hack.
Earlier this summer hackers, allegedly from China, breached Community Health Systems, a company that runs 206 hospitals in 29 states—stealing 4.5 million patients’ records. According to a regulatory filing, CHS confirmed that hackers were able to obtain non-medical data information such as patient names, addresses, birthdates, telephone numbers and social security numbers, but they did not obtain credit card, medical or clinical information.
Meet Florida resident Linda Weaver. Back in 2007, Weaver received a hospital bill for the amputation of her right foot—yet there she stood on her own two feet. As it turned out, her Social Security number and insurance identification number had been stolen and that was enough. Assuming her identity, the thief checked into the hospital and had the expensive amputation performed. But that’s not where the horror ends, as with other medical theft cases, the fraudster’s medical information was merged with Weaver’s.
“Medical Identity theft is a growing and dangerous crime that leaves its victims with little to no recourse for recovery,” said Pam Dixon, the founder and executive director of World Privacy Forum. ”Victims often experience financial repercussions and worse yet, they frequently discover erroneous information has been added to their personal medical files due to the thief’s activities.”
Extra precautions for keeping health information safe are in the works, but with the federal mandate for electronic medical records and the health exchanges set up under Obamacare, there are more opportunities for medical fraud than ever before. Back in June, a backpack was discovered near the Access Health CT exchange in Hartford, Connecticut. Inside the backpack, four notepads with the social security numbers of 151 people enrolled in the state’s exchange were discovered.
“There are so many opportunities out there to defraud people,” says Dennis Jay, executive director of the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud. “You’re dealing with populations that are new to insurance and don’t understand the dangers of selling a Medicaid number or sharing a health ID number.”
According to a study at the Ponemon Institute, a research center dedicated to privacy, data protection and information security policy, more than 50 percent of all medical identity theft is “friendly fraud.” This is where someone “borrows” a friend or relatives insurance card—with or without their knowledge—in order to receive some type of medical care.
The Medical Identity Fraud Alliance interviewed 800 victims of medical fraud in 2013 and found that most people don’t think there are consequences—it’s not a big deal. They don’t think about the dangers of having their friends or relatives medical information comingled with their own. Having misinformation regarding blood types, diagnoses and allergies can have far reaching consequences—it can kill.
The consequences can also be expensive. The Ponemon Institute found that 36 percent of medical identity theft victims pay to clear things up with an out-of-pocket average of $19,000.
According to the FBI, health care fraud costs the U.S. tens of billions of dollars a year and it is a rising threat. With national health care expenditures, it is estimated to exceed $3 trillion this year.
In order to protect your identity it is a good idea to employ these strategies:
- Read your medical and insurance statement (Explanation of Benefits) regularly and completely. Check the name of the provider, the date of service, and the service provided. Do the claims paid match the care you received?
- Shred medical documents like you would other sensitive financial information.
- Be wary if someone offers “free” health services or products, but requires you to provide your health plan ID numbers. Medical identity thieves may pretend to work for an insurance company, doctors’ office, clinic, or pharmacy to try and trick you into revealing sensitive information.
- Check your credit report at least once a year.
- Protect your health insurance card as carefully as you would your Social Security number or credit cards.
- Never share your health insurance care with anyone. It’s not only illegal, it can jeopardize your health if someone else’s medical information gets comingled with yours.
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