In its various incarnations, identity theft can be one of them most damaging and frustrating crimes for its victims. But new research suggests that one of the most dangerous kinds of identity theft - medical identity theft - has yet to attract the attention of policymakers and potential victims. Here, an outline of how to protect yourself against medical ID theft - and why it's important to do so.
While identity theft can cause financial distress (and has even been documented as pushing victims to file bankruptcy), its harm remains largely in the economic sector of most victims' lives. Victims of financial identity theft may experience damaged credit reports, see their bank accounts drained or find themselves charged for purchases they never made.
Such occurrences can be frustrating, but they aren't life-threatening. Medical identity theft, on the other hand, can literally be deadly.
Imagine this: someone you don't know uses your insurance information to visit the doctor. That person gets treated for a couple diseases, has his blood drawn and signs up for an expensive surgical procedure or two. The doctor enters all this in your medical file and sends the bills to the address listed on the account. Here's how this could affect you down the line:
As the medical industry moves away from paper files and toward digitized documentation, the speed with which misinformation can be spread and the ease with which sensitive information can be accessed has increased.
What may be more disturbing is that the WPF estimates that most medical identity theft goes unnoticed by medical professionals and victims. After all, without a suspicious-looking bill to tip off the victim, minor changes to a medical history may not be found until it's too late.
So what can you do to prevent having your medical insurance depleted, receiving improper medical treatment, losing out on health or life insurance, failing physical exams and/or having a false record of diseases and treatments? To prevent medical identity theft, take the following precautions:
If you suspect you've been victimized by medical identity theft, do the following:
Thanks to legislation like the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003, we have weapons against regular identity theft: everyone is entitled to one free credit report from each of the big three credit reporting bureaus per year.
Because medical ID theft is one of the less-researched of information crimes, though, consumer protections are not yet in place. In some cases, victims of medical identity theft don't even have access to their medical files to determine whether or not the information in them is correct.
In its report on medical identity theft, the WPF recommends that consumers be given access to their medical files similar to their access to credit files. For a look at the WPF's complete list of suggested legislative reform to address the problem of medical identity theft, check out the World Privacy Forum's website.