What is Medical Identity Theft?
Medical identity theft can wreak havoc on your life. It occurs when someone fraudulently uses your personal information, such as your name, social security number, health insurance account number, or medicare number, to access medical services and products. This can include doctor visits, prescription drugs, medical devices, filing claims with your insurance, or receiving other types of medical care.
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The consequences of medical identity theft can be far-reaching. Mixing the thief’s health information with yours can impact the medical care you receive and the benefits you can avail from your health insurance plan. Moreover, it can have a negative impact on your credit score.
Safeguarding Your Medical Information
Now that you know what medical identity theft is, let’s delve into how you can protect yourself from falling victim to this crime.
Protect the Documents Containing Your Medical Information
One of the first steps you should take is securing any documents that contain your medical information. Keep your medical records, health insurance records, and other relevant documents in a safe place. These may include health insurance enrollment forms, insurance cards, prescriptions, bill statements, and explanations of benefits from your health insurance company.
When disposing of these documents, ensure you shred them before discarding them. If you don’t have a shredder, look for local shredding events. For items that are difficult to shred, like prescription bottles, use a marker to block out any personal and medical information.
It is also crucial to collect your mail promptly to reduce the risk of sensitive medical information falling into the wrong hands. Additionally, consider switching to receiving medical bills and explanation of benefits statements online to minimize physical mail containing your medical information.
Ask Questions Before Sharing Your Medical Information
Before providing your medical information to any organization, ask questions to gauge their intentions and ensure the safety of your data. For instance, if a medical office requests your social security number for identification purposes, inquire if they can use an alternative identifier or only the last four digits of your social security number.
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Similarly, if another organization seeks details like your health insurance account number, Medicare number, or specific health information, ask them why they need it, how they will protect it, and if they intend to share it with anyone.
Beware of Online and Phone Scammers
Be cautious when it comes to sharing your health information online or over the phone. Scammers can pose as legitimate entities and attempt to steal your valuable data. If you receive unexpected calls, emails, or texts requesting your health information, refrain from providing it.
Instead, ensure you sign in to your online medical account using a website that you trust. If you need to contact a company or healthcare provider, use a known and verified phone number.
Detecting Medical Identity Theft
Apart from taking precautionary measures, it’s vital to be able to identify the warning signs of medical identity theft. Familiarizing yourself with these indicators can help you take prompt action. Here are some red flags to watch out for:
- Receiving a bill for medical services you never received.
- Spotting errors on your explanation of benefits statement, such as services not rendered or prescription drugs you don’t take.
- Receiving calls from debt collectors regarding medical debts that aren’t yours.
- Discovering medical debt collection notices in your credit report that you don’t recognize.
- Receiving a notification from your health insurance provider stating that you’ve reached your benefit limit.
- Being denied insurance coverage due to a pre-existing condition that you don’t actually have.
Responding to Medical Identity Theft
If you suspect that someone is misusing your personal information for fraudulent medical purposes, it’s crucial to act swiftly to minimize the damage. Here’s what you should do:
Review Your Medical Records and Report Errors
- Begin by obtaining your medical records. Contact all the doctors, clinics, hospitals, pharmacies, labs, and health insurance companies that may have been targeted by the identity thief. Explain the situation and request copies of these records. You may need to complete records request forms and pay fees to obtain them.
In case a provider refuses to give you copies due to privacy concerns, don’t hesitate to appeal. Get in touch with the person mentioned in your provider’s notice of privacy practices, patient representative, or ombudsman. Share your predicament and request access to your medical history.
Thoroughly review your medical records. Look for any discrepancies, such as visits you didn’t make or services you didn’t receive.
Report any errors you find to your healthcare provider in writing. Include a copy of the medical record displaying the incorrect information and provide an explanation of why it is incorrect. Send the letter using a trackable method, such as certified mail, to ensure it reaches its intended recipient.
Remember that healthcare providers are obliged to respond within 30 days and notify other providers who may have the same errors in their records.
Check Your Credit Reports and Address Billing Errors
Obtain your free credit reports from all three major credit bureaus by visiting annualcreditreport.com or calling 1-877-322-8228.
Thoroughly review your credit reports, paying specific attention to medical billing errors like unrecognized medical debt collection notices.
Report any billing errors to all three credit bureaus following the steps outlined on identitytheft.gov.
Create a Personal Recovery Plan
When your personal information has been compromised in one context, it’s essential to consider the possibility of its misuse in other scenarios as well. Visit identitytheft.gov to create a personal recovery plan that encompasses all aspects of your identity theft situation.
By taking these proactive steps, you can minimize the potential damage caused by medical identity theft and regain control over your personal information and healthcare records. Stay vigilant and prioritize the protection of your medical identity.