A reader: With all the identity theft that we hear about, the data breaches from large companies and credit cards being compromised, what is being done to keep my medical information safe? I’m starting to hear stories of medical ID theft. I just heard one where a person stole another’s identity and actually had cosmetic surgery with someone else’s ID and insurance coverage. Can that really happen?
Action Line: Unfortunately, any and all are susceptible to any type of identity theft. It can happen to anyone. Your bank account, credit card, and your Social Security card information are the most vital pieces of information you should guard. However, DON’T forget about your insurance information as well.
Medical identity theft is on the rise. According to the Ponemom Institute, a private cybersecurity research firm, an estimated 481,657 new cases of medical identity theft were reported between 2013 and 2014, an increase of almost 22 percent. Who knows how many cases went unreported!
If your information gets into the wrong hands, it can be used to steal medical services, and yes, even surgeries. More often, your information would be used to get prescription drugs that are sold on the streets.
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There are laws that have been put in place to help protect your privacy, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). This tells who can access your information from doctors to claims processing and how they can use it. You may also want to find out about the 2009 Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH). This can help you in the case of a data breach.
So, how do you protect yourself? If you receive something in the mail called “Explanation of Benefits,” make sure that you read AND understand it. If the services billed were not provided to you, contact your insurance company immediately.
Be careful with your Social Security number. Keep it safe and secure. That goes for your insurance ID information, too.
Keep good records of all medical services that have been provided to you. Your health care provider should be able to give you copies.
If your doctor’s office or hospital wants to take a copy of your driver’s license, ask them why they need it. The more information you give them the more at risk you are.
Don’t ever share your information over the phone unless you are SURE you know to whom you are talking.
If you are online, make sure the site or the app you are using is secure.
Ask your doctors and hospital how they protect your information. It’s your right to know.
You can find more information on HIPAA here: fblinks.com/HIPAA
You can find more information on HITECH here: fblinks.com/hitech
Stay tuned for next week’s article on what you can do if medical identity theft happens to you.
Action Line is written by Blair Looney, president and CEO for the Better Business Bureau serving Central California. Send your consumer concerns, questions and problems to Action Line at the Better Business Bureau, 2600 W. Shaw Lane, Fresno, CA 93711 or firstname.lastname@example.org.