Protect medical information to avoid hacks, identity theft
In an emergency, having the wrong blood type listed or an incorrect medical history can be a matter of life or death. Medical identity theft, a lesser-known form of identity theft is on the rise and can happen to anyone.
“Medical identity theft can cause the wrong information to drift into your medical history which can cause ‘your’ information to be more about them than you,” says Kathy Sweedler, a University of Illinois Extension consumer economics educator, who recently led a program on the topic.
The Federal Trade Commission, FTC, describes medical identity theft as using personal information without permission to obtain medical treatment, prescription drugs, or surgery. It can lead to an inaccurate history of drug and alcohol abuse, incorrect test results or diagnoses, and higher insurance premiums.
In 2020, more than 45,000 reports of medical identity theft were recorded, but many cases go undocumented.
“The cases could be a lot higher than what we see reported,” says Dr. Camaya Wallace Bechard, an Illinois Extension consumer economic educator, who also led the program.
Medical identity theft happens mostly in two ways: stolen information and freely given information. Both are illegal. If someone steals a purse and uses that ID to get a prescription, that is stolen information. Misuse of freely given information can happen when a family member uses personal information.
Prevention is the best way to avoid medical identity theft. Get copies of medical records and explanation of benefits for bills and insurance claims and check them thoroughly. Providers cannot deny patients access to their medical records.
Be proactive and cautious with personal information. Do not carry a social security card and never give out the number by phone, email or in an app.
Update Medicare and Medicaid cards. If they are lost, report them missing as soon as possible.
Shred papers with identifying medical information and remove labels on prescription bottles before disposing. Never share health information over the phone, through email or online.
If something feels fishy, do not be afraid to ask questions to avoid being the victim of a scam. It may be safer to wait and do some research before providing information over the phone or online.
If fraud is suspected, put a fraud alert on all accounts and keep a record of calls, documents, and conversations.
Those who suspect identity theft have several options. Contact the health insurer and get an explanation of benefits and contact service providers for medical records. If theft has occurred, contact the police and file a report and also report it to the Federal Trade Commission.