Medical identity theft can ail your credit score and can cause you to accumulate personal debt from large medical bills. Even worse, when an identity thief uses your insurance to see a doctor, get prescription drugs or file claims, it could tarnish your medical records. In a worst-case scenario, this could be the culprit behind improper medical care, like receiving a blood transfusion of the wrong blood type.
The threat of medical identity theft surfaced recently when the Affordable Care Act’s HealthCare.gov site was hacked this summer. Although no personal data was reportedly stolen, the hacker breached the site and uploaded malicious software, according to federal officials. This sparked concerns months before the start of an open-enrollment period.
In other news, Community Health Systems, a hospital chain with medical facilities in 29 states, experienced a massive data breach that compromised the records of 4.5 million patients this past spring. Hackers in China bypassed the company’s security measures to steal patients’ names, addresses, birth dates and Social Security numbers. These identity thieves exploited the infamous Heartbleed security flaw in the OpenSSL encryption technology.
According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, heath care-related data breaches accounted for 43 percent of all major breaches in 2013.
Another report by BitSight Technology claims that health care and drug companies aren’t taking serious enough precautions when it comes to medical identity theft. The report suggests that compensation levels for IT security workers are lowest in the health care sector and that compliance with federal privacy laws is prioritized over security.
All these reasons and more suggest that consumers need to stay vigilant about protecting their health care records. Here are some important precautions you can take to stay immune to medical identity theft:
Read Your Medical and Insurance Statements Regularly
Be sure that your statements match the care you received. Read the Explanation of Benefits (EOB) statement or Medicare Summary Notice that is sent following treatment. Check the name of the provider, the date of service and the service provided for accuracy.
Check Your Credit Score
Sometimes a change in your credit score could be one of the first signs that reveal that you’re a victim of medical identity theft. Medical bills that have been turned over to debt collectors could negatively impact your score.
Shred Important Documents
It’s important to keep your medical records organized and to shred the files you no longer need. This will prevent an identity thief from stealing any personal information that could lead them to fraudulently obtaining or using your health insurance.
Be Mindful When Disclosing Personal Information
In the past, identity thieves have been known to pose as employees of an insurance company or medical facility over the phone or online to gather information from victims. Do your due diligence to make sure anyone requesting personal information from you is legitimate. When your Social Security number is requested, ask if another type of information would suffice.