When we hear about identity theft, we often imagine a stranger stealing our personal information to open an account or apply for a new credit card, racking up tons of debt in our name. But how much do you really know about medical identity theft?
While medical identity theft can happen to anyone, there are steps you can take to prevent it from happening to you.
Medical identity theft also involves someone stealing your personal information, and it can be just as much of a hassle to fix. Luckily there are steps you can take to protect yourself. Learn more about what medical identity theft is, how you can protect yourself and what you can do if you become a victim.
What Is Medical Identity Theft?
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), medical identity theft occurs when someone steals or uses your personal information – like your name, Social Security number, health insurance account number or Medicare number – to see a doctor, get prescription drugs, buy medical devices, submit fraudulent claims with your insurance provider or get other medical care without your knowledge.
Medical identity theft can be committed by anyone. Your information may be stolen in a data breach by a stranger or a scammer who asks for your information while pretending to be someone from your insurance company. It can also be committed by someone you know, including family members, caregivers, friends, and health care providers or staff.
How Do I Know if I’m a Victim of Medical Identity Theft?
According to the FTC, as well as the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Inspector General, you may be a victim of medical identity theft if you’ve experienced any of the following:
- You get a bill from your health care provider for services you didn’t receive.
- You receive VA benefits or health care insurance correspondence you didn’t request or initiate, such as an appointment reminder or a benefit determination letter.
- You notice errors in your explanation of benefits (EOB) statement, e.g., services you didn’t get or prescription medications you don’t take.
- You receive prescription drugs, medical equipment or medical supplies you didn’t order or authorize.
- You get a notice from your health insurance company indicating you’ve reached your benefit limit.
- You were denied insurance due to an inaccurate medical history, like a preexisting condition you don’t have.
- You were contacted by a debt collector for outstanding medical expenses in your name or see a credit report with medical debt collection notices you don’t recognize.
- You’ve noticed missing mail or unauthorized access to your financial records.
What Can I Do to Protect Myself From Medical Identity Theft?
While medical identity theft can happen to anyone, there are steps you can take to prevent it from happening to you. Here are some suggestions:
- Secure all of your personal and health insurance information.
- Protect documents that contain your medical information by keeping them in a safe place. This includes health insurance cards, prescriptions, prescription bottles, enrollment forms, billing statements and more.
- Get rid of these documents safely. Make sure to shred them before you throw them away. If it’s something like a prescription bottle, use a dark marker to block out any personal information.
- Don’t allow others to use your health insurance and be cautious about sharing your data with anyone.
- Beware of unsolicited or free health care offers, surveys or promised compensation, especially if you’re asked for your health insurance information. This is one of the ways a scammer may obtain your personal information. This could be in the form of a phone call, an email or a text message.
- Ask questions before you give out your medical information. If someone from a health care office asks for your Social Security number to identify you, see if they can use a different piece of information instead. Ask questions such as “Why do you need it? How will you protect it? Will you share it?”
- Check your medical bills and explanation of benefits (EOB) carefully to ensure everything is accurate. Look for things like a doctor’s name you don’t recognize, a treatment you didn’t receive or a treatment date that isn’t right.
- Monitor your credit reports for unknown debts, opened credit lines and other issues that look suspicious.
- Limit the amount of medical information you get by mail. Ask your health care providers and insurers about receiving your statements and bills online. If you use the mail, try to get medical documents out of your mailbox as soon as you can.
What Steps Do I Take if I Think I’m a Victim?
Even if you’ve tried to be careful with your medical information, you still may become a victim of medical identity theft. If it happens to you, here are some steps you can take to correct it:
- File a complaint with the FTC online. This resource walks you through each recovery step, creates a personalized plan of steps you need to take, updates your plan as needed and tracks your progress. If it’s Medicare-related, report it online to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General or call 800-447-8477.
- Report questionable charges or fraud. You can file a police report and send the information to your health care providers, your insurance company’s fraud department and the three nationwide credit reporting agencies.
- Notify VA if your identity is compromised or if your VA ID card is lost or stolen. VA’s Veteran Identity Theft Helpline is a great place to start.
What Resources Are Available to Help?
- VA offers a lot of helpful identity theft tools and resources, including their helpline, answers to frequently asked questions, general identity theft tips, a list of additional resources and much more.
- VA’s Office of Inspector General has a Fraud Indicators Toolkit, which provides information on recent fraud and crime alerts, as well as possible indicators specific to various types of fraud, including health care fraud. Check out the medical identity theft fraud alert.
- The FTC’s Consumer Advice page offers helpful information and resources related to medical identity theft.
- IdentityTheft.gov has sample letters you can use in case of fraud, checklists to ensure you’re doing all the right things, prevention tips and much more to guide you through the recovery process of identity theft.
Use the information, tools and resources available to help keep your medical information safe and avoid becoming a victim of medical identity theft.