Medical Identity Theft Can Be Painful and Dangerous
It’s a growing epidemic and if a scammer steals your identity for medical purposes, it may not just be your financial health that’s at risk
If you’ve ever been asked to hand over your driver’s license when signing in at a doctor’s office—and there’s a good chance you have, since this has become standard procedure for patient registration—you likely have wondered, “Why do I need to prove who I am? Are there really people going around impersonating me to get my colonoscopy?”
Shockingly, the answer is actually yes.
Granted, a colonoscopy specifically may not be high on a scammer’s wish list. But it is very possible that someone would pretend to be you in order to get other types of medical services. In fact, this type of fraud—known as medical identity theft—is becoming increasingly common.
The Fifth Annual Study on Medical Identity Theft showed that the number of reported medical theft incidents had doubled since five years before.
Why scammers commit medical fraud
People often commit medical identity theft in order to receive drugs or medical treatments that won’t be connected to their name, and with someone else getting stuck with the bill.
Also, since medical records contain vital information like Social Security numbers, addresses, and insurance information—in other words, the essential ingredients for identity theft—medical fraud can often be the first step that leads to other types of fraud and identity theft.
Medical fraud can be costly—and potentially life-threatening
While any type of identity theft can have serious financial repercussions, medical fraud can also put your physical safety at risk. If someone receives medical care using your name, his or her treatment history and medical updates can get mixed with your own. This means your records may end up containing inaccurate details related to medications, diagnoses, test results, and even vital statistics such as blood type. Incorrect information in your file creates a potentially dangerous situation if medical professionals make treatment decisions or prescribe medications for you based on that faulty data.
Of course, medical theft can have financial fallout as well. Consumers generally have limited liability when it comes to unauthorized use of credit cards or financial accounts, but there are fewer protections in cases of medical fraud.
A study on medical identity theft conducted by the Ponemon Institute found that 65 percent of medical identity victims paid an average of $13,500 to deal with the damage. This includes amounts due to medical providers for services provided in the patient’s name, along with costs for legal and/or credit protection services to rectify the situation and protect against future fraud.
Protecting yourself requires diligence
Detecting medical fraud isn’t always easy. Whereas banks and credit card companies usually have safeguards and monitoring systems in place to help detect fraud quickly, medical providers often lack such systems, so it could take much longer for medical identity theft to be discovered.
It’s important to read all insurance documents, medical bills and statement of benefits reports carefully. If your doctor’s office or healthcare facility provides online access to your medical records, monitor them regularly to check for anything you don’t recognize.