Your Medical Records: A "Rich" Source for Identity Thieves

Your Medical Records: A "Rich" Source for Identity Thieves

Identity thieves call medical records "fulls," because they contain information such as Social Security numbers, addresses, or payment accounts that are used to establish a person's identity.  Javelin Strategy and Research in Pleasanton, California, produced a 2010 Identity Fraud Survey Report that reveals that medical identity theft has more than doubled since 2008.  The Ponemon Institute's National Study on Identity Theft estimates that approximately one million Americans were victims of medical identity theft during the past two years.

Victims of medical identity theft often end up paying for care that they don't receive, or they may lose their health insurance or pay higher premiums.  The Ponemon report found that 500,000 people lent their medical insurance cards to uninsured family members, resulting in "friendly fraud" cases, and they ended up with big medical bills.  These results differ from credit card fraud, where a bank may have to absorb the loss.  Larry Ponemon of the Ponemon Institute says it costs more than $20,000 out of pocket on average to resolve a medical identity theft case.  Some thieves work as "moles" in medical offices or in insurance companies and steal patient records.  Computerized medical records may be a fertile ground for cybercriminals.  If someone else gets care using a person's identity, it can alter medical records, affecting the original person's ability to get proper care and services. 

There are ways that people can protect themselves from medical identity theft:

  • Ask your health care providers to request that patients provide photo identification. 
  • Ask doctors to provide you with a copy of everything in your medical records.  You may have to pay for this, but you may find that it's worth the cost.  
  • Read every letter you receive from providers and insurers. If you see a name or treatment date that is unfamiliar, then phone the provider that produced the bill and your insurer. Even if a letter from your insurer says "this is not a bill," read it carefully.
  • Ask your insurer for a list of benefits paid in your name, and also ask your insurer and providers for an "accounting of disclosures," that shows who received your medical records.
  • Monitor your credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com. If you see medical billing errors, then contact your insurer and the credit bureaus.
  • Contact your insurance provider immediately if you lose your insurance card. If you have a Medicare card, then make a copy of it, obscure the last four digits of your Social Security number and keep that copy in your wallet instead of the original Medicare card.
  • Avoid offers of free treatment and supplies from storefront operations and the internet.

Putting these safeguards in place and staying alert can help you avoid becoming a victim of this additional and insidious form of identity theft.

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Oast & Hook has been providing quality legal services in Southeastern Virginia and North Carolina for more than 80 years. The attorneys at Oast & Hook can assist clients with their estate, financial, insurance, long-term care, veterans' benefits and special needs planning issues. Visit their website at www.oasthook.com for more information.

Sandra L. Smith joined the firm in 2003. She practices primarily in the areas of elder law, estate planning, estate and trust administration, special needs planning, asset protection planning, long-term care planning and Veterans' benefits. Ms. Smith is certified as an Elder Law Attorney (CELA) by The National Elder Law Foundation (NELF).

In 2008, Ms. Smith was named as a Rising Star by Virginia Super Lawyers magazine. Rising Stars names the state's top up-and-coming attorneys.