Nearly everyone knows the dangers of identity theft, where someone steals your credit cards, bank information, or Social Security number to rip you off. But a new kind of crime is rising that could put you in even greater danger.
It’s medical identity theft, and it’s on the rise in the U.S. According to report this month by the Medical Identity Fraud Alliance, which tracks such crimes, 2.3 million Americans were victimized by medical ID thieves in 2014 — with total damages adding up to $20 billion.
That represents a 22 percent increase in the number of cases in just one year. MIFA also noted one-fifth of the victims suffered a decrease in their credit score, a third lost their health insurance, and the average cost to resolve those crimes cost consumers $13,500.
Twila Brase, president of the Citizens’ Council for Health Freedom — a Minnesota-based organization dedicated to protecting patient privacy rights — tells Newsmax TV medical ID theft is a growing national problem.
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One factor fueling the rise in medical ID theft: Healthcare reform changes pushed, in part, by Obamacare requiring doctors and healthcare providers to covert paper medical records to digital files that can be more easily stolen and used to file fraudulent health claims with insurers, Medicare, and Medicaid.
The eventual goal is to create a National Medical Records System to track and analyze patient data — an initiative she argues puts consumers at risk.
“I do see it growing,” she says of the threat posed by medical ID thieves. “It's one of the problems with a push towards a National Medical Records System because now we have created, or will create, a bigger and bigger target as our medical records get connected without our consent, mind you.”
What happens in medical ID theft is hackers steal your medical information, clinical records, insurance card data, or other sensitive health data that allows them to file claims with Medicare, Medicaid or your insurer.
Thieves can order drugs and/or scam those organizations, insurance companies and the government for money and you may be held liable for it.
The risk is increasing because of cyberattacks and security data breaches at major corporations. In the past year, for instance, security specialist reported a number of major data breaches exposed tens of millions of Americans’ health information. Among the biggest:
- America's 2nd-largest health insurer, Anthem, was recently hit with a breach that exposed the sensitive records of 80 million people.
- Premera Blue Cross, based in Washington State, had breach that affected 11 million members.
- Between 2010 and 2013, nearly 950 data breaches of protected health information were reported by entities covered by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) — involving approximately 29 million records, according to a study in the April 14 issue of Journal of the American Medical Association. Most data breaches resulted from overt criminal activity.
In these cases, thieves gained access to such personal information as medical claims data and clinical records, as well as banking account numbers, Social Security numbers, and birth dates.
“When you have these kinds of systems that connect all of this information together, it just becomes a very valuable target to those who see how much money that they can make off of our medical IDs,” Brase says.
Experts say that medical information is 20 times more valuable than financial data on the black market, experts say. And if the thief's health info becomes mixed with your medicals, your treatment, insurance and payment records, and credit report may all be affected.
Experts say there are some steps you can take to reduce your chances of falling prey:
- Protect your healthcare records like you would bank or credit card info.
- Ask your healthcare providers if you can see your electronic health records, to check for errors.
- Read your explanation-of-benefits statements from providers to check for any fraudulent charges.
- Ask health plans and medical providers for an "accounting of disclosures," which lists who has received your records. By law, you are entitled to one copy per year from each provider.
- Check your credit reports regularly for any strange unpaid medical bills that an identity thief might have generated. You're entitled to one free copy of your credit report each year from the three main reporting bureaus (access those at AnnualCreditReport.com).
- Don't give out your personal or health information to friends or family members so that they can access some medical care.
- Be on the lookout for scams, such as if someone claims to work for a healthcare company and offers you some services for free or for a too-good-to-be-true price, requiring your Social Security number or other personal data.
- If you find that you've been victimized, be sure to report it to insurance provider, doctor, and local police, and federal or state authorities.
“Your medical records are specific to you,” Brase notes. “What [the ID theft threat] requires is for you to look into your medical records wherever they are and see perhaps what has been put in there that's not about you.
“Perhaps there are allergies that aren't your allergies or medications that are not your medications, diagnosis that you've never had and for most people this is a very expensive endeavor and a very difficult endeavor to make sure that the information that is about you is actually about you and not about somebody else.”
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