Medical identity theft is on the rise and make no mistake: this is as worse if not more so than the plain old vanilla identity theft.
Help a Friend Out
If you’re a fan of the now-syndicated Friends franchise, you probably remember the episode where Rachel really needed to go to the hospital but resisted because she didn’t have health insurance. She’d talked her roommate and best friend, Monica, into allowing her to steal her identity just long enough to get in to see a doctor. She promised she’d pay any of the bills that the insurance didn’t cover, but she desperately needed to get to the hospital. And, of course, it’s television, so it soon became clear that paying the bill was the least of their worries when there were two handsome doctors giving them attention. It ultimately blows up in their face, of course, but it’s also the perfect introduction to a new problem – medical identity theft.
It’s a crime that’s growing at alarming rates, too. The reasons why this is a growing problem in the U.S. will likely infuriate you. As it turns out, your records aren’t handled only by your doctor, a few nurses and possibly an insurance clerk: it’s for sale. And folks are buying it faster than I run toward the coffee pot every day. Trust me – I can run fast.
Marketers and Drug Companies
Marketing companies, companies looking to build massive databases for sell to others like drug companies and a host of other outfits – and they’re all eager to learn as much about you as they can – including whether or not you have your wisdom teeth or how many children you’ve had. And the worse part? This might just be the most challenging part of protecting your identity; in fact, it might prove impossible.
Estimates are that your medical file can go for as much as $24. For contrast, consider this: your social security number is for sale for just 50 cents. It’s a smart investment for those willing to shell out the money, though. Odds are, these thieves are looking for their share of the whopping $80 billion a year that thieves steal. Drug dealers, according to the FBI, are abandoning their street corner customers in lieu of your medical records so that they can commit big fraud. And, of course, the odds of them getting caught with your medical records are far lower than getting popped on that street corner. It’s much better for them if they use your identity for drugs or other medical services that they can sell.
It can take as long – if not longer – to clean up your medical files than it is your credit file, too. In California, there were efforts of having ex prisoners sign up consumers for Obamacare. That lasted for about thirty seconds. Enough complaints were filed by privacy advocates that whoever dreamed up the brilliant idea backed off of it.
What further complicates this growing problem is victims have no way of checking up on their identities like they do their credit files. You can’t just request a copy of your medical records once a year to ensure no funny business is going on. Many find out when an insurance company sends a statement or a doctor sends a bill. By then, of course, the criminals are long gone. If it is strongly suspected that you’ve been compromised, you can request a copy of your health records, but there are no guarantees you’ll get them in any kind of reasonable time span.
For one, states have different laws on who is the proverbial gate keeper. Is it the insurance company? Your family doctor? Your gynecologist? The hospital? It can be quite time consuming with few, if any, guarantees. At a minimum, you’ll want to contact the pharmacies, hospitals, labs, doctors – dentists, general practitioners, etc. They’ll work with you to get the right information to you; specifically, recent visits or changes in your medical records. You have to be careful with that too, though, because the thief could have somehow co-mingled his medical history with yours – which opens up a new can of worms.
Two words: pre-existing condition. That’s right – if a thief used your identity for medical purposes and was diagnosed with some disorder or disease, you may find yourself paying more for your own insurance until you can get the records sorted out. That could be problematic, too. The reason is that no one is obligated to accommodate your requests. A little patience and a willingness to ask to speak to someone else can usually provide the kind of results you needs.
You’ll want to ensure your files are changed and accurate and you’ll want the information that has nothing to do with you eliminated – not just flagged – but wiped out completely. There are life and death considerations involved too. What if your medical file has the wrong blood type associated with you? What if you’re allergic to penicillin but the thief wasn’t and now there’s a note in your file that penicillin is fine? These are all important dynamics that could cost far more than a stolen identity.
Unexpected Sources for Medical Identity Theft
You’ll also want to rethink your own habits. Know that discount card that allows you to buy a case of Diet Cokes for a fraction of the cost? Yep – it also has your prescription information in that little strip in the back. It’s akin to bread crumbs being dropped for marketers and fraudsters. With the information on those cards, they can determine what you buy, whether you use a Visa or MasterCard to pay for purchases and even information that’s intimate and incredibly personal.
In one instance, a father learned his 15 year old daughter was pregnant after he began receiving literature, promotions, coupons and “We want to welcome your new bundle” cards from Target. Wondering how Target found out before her own father did? She’d used the discount card to purchase her pregnancy test.
Medical privacy expert Dr. Deborah Peel reiterates how crucial it is to protect ourselves from medical identity theft,
This data is the most valuable personal information about you. More valuable than anything,
Many people know that personal information like your social security number is very valuable for identity thieves.
Don’t assume the calvary is coming with ways of protecting you. Our government and the medical industry as a whole has been a bit busy recently trying to reconcile a new fact of life: Obamacare. A recent audit from the Health and Human Services agency shows most health care providers simply do not comply with federal laws. Worse, they say they weren’t even aware of federal laws for these specifics.