Almost 35 percent of Americans experienced health record breaches in 2015 through IT problems or computer hacking. Medical identity theft is still on the rise. These thieves may break into a person’s computer or email to steal personal information. However, they usually break into third-party sites to steal troves of confidential medical information. With this information, they can make medical appointments, obtain prescription refills, make insurance claims or order medical equipment without the victim knowing about it. Some people sell the information to others for misuse instead.
To make matters worse, medical information thieves can falsify medical records. They may be tested and treated for conditions that are only partially covered, and they may use up valuable benefits that come with limitations. For example, they could use the one free cancer screening that a policyholder is entitled to and needs. These fraudsters cost the United States about $320 billion every year, and that number will only rise if consumers and health companies do not make a bigger effort to protect sensitive information. Since the increasing costs are passed on to consumers in the form of higher premiums, it is important for everyone to make information protection a top priority.
Most people wonder how to find out if their information has been compromised. The Federal Trade Commission suggests using the following tips to determine if information has been compromised:
- Receiving a bill for a service that was not performed or for medical equipment that was not received.
- Receiving a call from a company asking for payment of a medical bill that was never incurred.
- Seeing medical collection accounts on a credit report that are not recognized.
- Having an insurance claim denied because of medical records showing a condition that does not exist.
If any of these signs present themselves, it is important to act quickly and report them. Identity thieves may continue using benefits for months. These are some important tips to remember about identity thieves and scams.
“Free” services may not really be free at all. When receiving offers for free services, read the fine print. In most cases, they come with costs or are just scam setups. Fraudsters usually ask for health plan identification numbers and other personal data to misuse.
Never share personal information by email or phone. If someone calls and requests this information, do not provide it or any information about a health plan. The only time when this is acceptable is when the policyholder makes a call to a verified health provider and gives personal data for necessary services.
Keep health records in a safe place. Keep all records from doctor visits in a locked file cabinet. When discarding insurance statements or old medical papers, always shred them. Never throw away anything with a plan number or personal information printed on it. Also, remove labels from prescription bottles before discarding them.
Ask for files if information may have been stolen. When information theft is suspected, ask for medical files. Every patient has the right to request these from their health providers. Check them for errors, and report any errors to the insurance company immediately.
With the constant threat of cyber attacks, keeping health information secure is a task that only grows in importance. While a great deal of the burden is on third-party health providers and insurance companies, consumers must also take steps to safeguard their information at home. Using best practices for Internet safety and storage or disposal of medical data is essential. To learn more about preventing or reporting medical identity theft, discuss concerns with an agent.