Medical Identity Theft can Infect Your Personal and Financial Health
There are few things as important as our private medical information but all the technological advancements are putting all of that private information at risk as doctors and hospitals are transferring written files to electronic medical record data banks. Medical identify theft has increased 125% since 2010 and criminal cyber attacks on our medical information are on the increase. So far in 2015, more than 100 million patient files have been breached. Identity Theft Resource Center reports that medical information theft is progressing at a rate faster than any other sector and had the highest percentage of breaches in 2014.
Why is this important, you ask? Think about the information contained in your patient information files: your full name, home address, date of birth, phone numbers, and the all-important Social Security number. We also provide insurance information and financial information so payment for medical treatment can be processed. In essence, we provide a veritable goldmine of personal information to healthcare providers, which if hacked, could easily provide a gateway for criminal use of our most important information.
Adam Levin, author of the new book Swiped: How to Protect Yourself in a World Full of Scammers, Phishers and Identity Thieves, calls medical data breaches “life-threatening”. Our medical files contain all of our private medical information that could put our lives at risk if it ended up in the hands of a cyber criminal. For example, critical medical information such as drug allergies and blood type could be changed if our medical information is hacked rendering us vulnerable to a medical emergency or death. What if you need life-saving surgery and a criminal has already used your insurance to secure the same surgery? You could be denied the surgery you need while sorting out the medical identity theft.
Levin says it’s important to raise awareness of the threat of medical identity theft, and there are a number of things to watch out for to determine if your medical information has been hacked:
- Look for errors in your medical file. Although a simple mistake by your healthcare provider could be the answer to a medical error, do not assume that is in fact the case. Check your medical record online, if that is available, or call the healthcare provider directly to check the accuracy of your medical records, alert your provider to the error, and request your records be changed to reflect the correct information.
- You receive emails that seem to come from your healthcare provider or the billing department requesting personal information. These are called “phishing” emails. DO NOT provide any personal or financial information via email but rather call your healthcare provider or their billing department directly.
- Be wary of one-ring phone calls. These can be scams. Levin recommends that if you do not recognize the phone number, let it go to voicemail. Identity thieves may call just to see if they have a working phone number for you in order to carry out identity theft. If no voicemail is left on your phone, do not return a one-ring phone call to find out who called because this can also be a scam that results in charges on your phone bill.
- Read all correspondence from your healthcare provider including the EOB (Explanation of Benefits) and any prescription information. If there is a provider or prescription listed that does not belong to you, contact your provider immediately.
- If you start receiving calls from a collection agency about unpaid medical bills that are not yours, demand that the debt collector provide detailed information about the unpaid bill, and notify your healthcare provider and insurance company immediately.
- If your credit score suddenly decreases, this could be a sign that your medical information has been hacked. Unpaid medical bills will show up on your credit report and affect it negatively. You are entitled to a free annual credit report from the 3 major credit agencies (TransUnion, Equifax and Experian) and many credit card companies now offer a free credit score with each monthly bill. Stay on top of your credit report to see if your credit has been compromised by a medical cyber attack.
The key to reducing the threat of medical identity theft is to be vigilant of the warning signs and to take action immediately if the threat arises.