Healthcare Technology Featured Article

January 23, 2024

Types of Medical Identity Theft and Ways to Protect Yourself

Identity theft has become a top concern over the past decade, with an increasing number of Americans losing critical personal data that could compromise their safety.

Among the surging threats, medical identity theft is often a less spoken-about fraud that has exposed victims to innumerable risks and dangers. In this article, we discuss different ways you may encounter it and what you could do to remain safe.

Understanding Medical Identity Theft

Medical identity fraud refers to any event where a fraudster obtains medical services using someone else’s identity.

You can encounter it in a variety of ways, and what you stand to lose will depend on the specific threat you face.

Here are the common types of medical identity theft-related incidents and the risks they could pose:

Obtaining treatments under a stolen identity

With the help of personal information, such as your name, SSN, and credit card information, criminals could access expensive treatments and bill them to you.

In such instances, you may only realize something is amiss when you start receiving calls from debt collectors.

This type of scam could have a damaging impact on your credit score, and clearing your name could take a while. You could face various fines, penalties, and late-payment charges, too.

Another consequence is the risk of adding inaccurate medical information to your file. When your medical records show health issues you don’t really have, you could end up receiving the wrong treatments, especially in emergencies. This could jeopardize your health and may even put your life at risk.

Inaccurate medical records could also cause your health insurance provider to refuse coverage or increase your premium.

Fraudulent health insurance claims

By stealing your health insurance details, scammers could access healthcare services and medication under your policy.

This could eat into the insurance benefits, preventing you from submitting claims in the future.

Obtaining prescription drugs

Bad actors can get hold of your medical prescriptions and purchase large stocks of drugs to sell them illegally. 

This type of scam could get you into serious trouble, with the possibility of criminal charges.

Of course, the dire outcomes of medical identity theft are not limited to one-off incidents. They can continue over several years or even decades. They may also manifest in different ways when you least expect them.

Guarding Against Medical Identity Theft

The sad reality is that anyone can face medical identity fraud regardless of age, health condition, or the value of their health insurance policy.

Therefore, taking a proactive approach to protecting yourself is necessary for minimizing risks.

Stay Informed

Knowledge can be a powerful weapon against any kind of fraud. By building awareness about medical identity theft trends and risk factors, you can equip yourself to combat them more effectively.

Remain Alert to Early Warning Signs

Here are the essential measures to take.

  • Carefully examine bills and documents sent by your medical service provider and ensure you can account for each treatment, service, or product received.
  • Keep copies of all your health insurance claims and check them against the Explanation of Benefits statements.
  • If you receive a notification from your health insurance provider that you have reached the maximum claim limit, revisit your claims for the year to confirm their total value.
  • If you are denied coverage, inquire about the specific reasons.
  • Review your credit report every six months to identify unusual activities you don’t recognize, such as medical debt.

Strengthen Data Security

By keeping your identifiable data secure, you can minimize much of the risk of medical identity theft.

Avoid phishing attempts

Phishing is one of the common techniques criminals adopt to access personal data. You can encounter a phishing attack via emails, phone calls, SMSs, and various other channels.

For instance, a scammer could impersonate your medical insurance provider and try to obtain your policy information under the pretext of verifying your records.

To avoid such fraud, confirming who you are dealing with is important whenever someone calls, emails, or messages you, asking for personal data.

When you are contacted via phone or email, always reverse search the number or email address on Nuwber to find out its owner. If an organization you recognize approaches you for information, call them to check whether the initial communication originated from them.

Guard against malware 

Malicious software can hunt for identifiable data of value in your devices and send them to cybercriminals.

To build effective barriers to safeguard your devices, install reliable virus protection software.

In addition, avoid clicking on links and attachments shared in unsolicited or unverified communications. These can easily transmit dangerous code that could expose you to data theft.

Minimize voluntary data sharing

Sometimes, you could unintentionally disclose critical information that may lead to identity theft.

A good example is the medical identity-related scams that surged during the pandemic. They were mainly triggered by social media users who posted photos of their vaccination cards showing identifiable information.

Such practices can easily put you at risk, allowing fraudsters to target you for deceptive schemes. Therefore, sharing data responsibly is essential for your safety.

This also applies to what you share outside the digital world. Remember, criminals can get hold of your data by hacking into organizations, such as hospitals and insurance companies, that have access to your records. Healthcare sector data breaches, in particular, have been rampant in the recent few years. So, extra caution will never go to waste.

As a habit, never provide excessive personal information to health service providers and insurers unless there is a valid reason to do so. Moreover, don’t hesitate to inquire about their data protection policies before you grant them access to identifiable details. 

Protect physical documents and other data sources

Your medical bills, prescriptions, and even bottles containing drugs could expose you to medical identity theft. Therefore, be mindful when disposing of such materials to prevent them from reaching bad actors.

Final Thoughts

Medical identity theft is a prevalent threat that could expose unsuspecting victims to costly risks.

If you think you have encountered such a data theft, taking immediate action is a must for mitigating the damage. Inform your medical service provider and insurer, and raise a complaint with the local police and the Federal Trade Commission. Notifying the three credit bureaus is equally important if you suspect the fraud could affect your credit score.

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