Identity theft and identity fraud are becoming increasingly concerning today, both in the United States and globally. For victims, it can often be devastating to know that your identity has been stolen and that someone else is using your personal information for their own purposes – whether those purposes are sinister or not. Today, this crime can be committed more easily than in the past, some might argue, due to the availability of personally identifiable information on digital databases. These databases, no matter how secure they might be, are always vulnerable to being breached, and recent news has shown that data breaches happen more often than we think. Hackers who get into data banks often steal the personal information of individuals that are saved on them. Trust in the organization that holds this data is often diminished, another phenomenon that we’re seeing today more and more often.
A unique kind of identity theft is now also on the rise – medical identity theft. With the rising costs of medical care, especially in the United States, medical identity theft has become a lucrative industry. The medical and healthcare industry is now one of the most prime – if not the most prime – targets of identity theft. Let’s take a deeper look into this phenomenon to understand it better and find out how to best deal with it.
What Is Medical Identity Theft?
If you’re asking yourself, “can someone access my medical records without my permission?” The answer is a resounding and terrifying yes. Medical identity theft occurs when a fraudster uses your, or someone else’s, personally identifiable information to fraudulently receive services or medication. This personally identifiable information includes your name and last name, date of birth, Social Security Number, and health insurance number. If this information, or a combination of them, lands in the wrong hands, it’s very likely that you could be a victim of medical identity theft – or identity theft in general.
Fraudsters carry out medical identity theft to use another individual’s health insurance information so that they’re able to obtain reimbursement for healthcare-related services for themselves (or for anyone who would pay for that information so that they can do the same). For both victims of medical identity theft and for the healthcare industry, this crime creates huge problems – both financially and for the health of victims.
What Are the Consequences of Medical Identity Theft?
As we’ve mentioned, the effects of this crime can harm your health and your pocket – to a devastating extent. Looking further into this, we find that a few key aspects are negatively affected by medical ID theft.
For example, you’ll find that fraudulent charges occur. Of course, a fraudster carries out this crime so that they don’t have to pay for their own medical bills. If you’re a victim of this crime, it’s likely that you’ll be charged for the treatment or medication of another individual whom you don’t even know.
Fraudulent charges also affect your credit, and we all know how important a credit score is in our world today. Often, you aren’t aware that someone else has used your name for their medical treatment, so bills would pile up on your name, resulting in your credit score being tainted.
For you, the victim, it’s easy to see how these effects are compounded. It can become a slippery slope, landing you in hot water on more than one front. Legal trouble is another of these consequences. When medical ID thieves illegally gain access to prescription drugs, victims are falsely accused.
As mentioned, another consequence is that your medical records start to become confusing. When fraudsters use your name for their medical treatment, what they’ve had done gets logged on your name and on your records. This creates issues for you, since your medical records will show diagnoses and treatments that don’t match your physical condition. And, if you’re not aware that you’re a victim, you could potentially receive the wrong kind of care for your individual condition.
Who Is at Risk of Medical Identity Theft?
Your age determines your risk. Often, the elderly and minors are at higher risk of medical identity theft due to the fact that they might not be as savvy regarding social engineering scams as most people. People in these age brackets tend to fall more easily for mobile phone scams and phishing scams, where they naively hand over personally identifiable information to fraudsters.
Your digital footprint is also a factor in your risk level. Identity thieves are able to put together information from what they find about you online. With a more significant digital footprint, this becomes easier for them. Basically, if there’s more information about you online, it’s that much easier for medical ID thieves to piece together your profile, leading to you becoming a victim.
Last, the more you interact with healthcare systems, the higher your risk of becoming a victim. As your personal records are updated every time you interact with a healthcare system, more information about you ends up on data servers. In the case of data breaches in the healthcare industry, your records can be leaked to fraudsters who attack these systems.
How Can I Prevent Medical Identity Theft?
There are various ways of keeping medical records and personally identifiable information safe, both for individuals and healthcare organizations.
Keep Your Accounts Secure
One of the basics of keeping your personal information safe is to ensure that you use strong passwords on your online medical accounts, as well as enabling two-factor or multi-factor authentication.
Employees in the Healthcare Sector Must Be Educated
Ensure that employees who deal with patient records are educated in digital security. Employees need to be aware that they’re gatekeepers of sensitive information and should understand the risks of their online behavior and how to avoid scams.
Keep Your Information Private
This means that you should safeguard your Medicare number and your Social Security Number. Ensure that your information is not easily accessible online, so opt out of people finder websites and keep your social media accounts private.