A high-profile medical identity theft case in Florida finally came to a close on January 24. Michael Ali Bryant pleaded guilty to selling an FBI informant stolen medical records which were supposed to be used to file fraudulent tax returns. The stolen data resulted in over $775,000 in false claims being filed with the IRS, according to the Florida Sun Sentinel.
A recent survey by the Ponemon Institute, a data analysis firm specializing in data and information systems, found that medical ID theft affected 1.8 million people in 2013. That number represents a near 20 percent increase from the previous year. The responsibility to protect sensitive medical information is fast becoming that of the patient due to some of the culprits being part of the industry themselves. Here are three of the most common types of medical ID theft that everyone should be aware of:
Prescription Drug Fraud
More people died from drug overdoses than car accidents in 2009, a statistic boosted primarily by the abuse of painkillers and anxiety medication, according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. The increasing demand for illegal prescription drugs has positively correlated with the rapid rise in theft of medical records since that time.
Thieves obtain enough information about the victim to request and fill the prescription of their choice. This can not only result in the victim receiving a bill for the prescription, but can also leave a permanent mark on their medical history that is extremely difficult to erase. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) provisions makes these permanent marks particularly hard to correct, as ID Theft Center explains.
You can protect yourself by making sure you open and read all mail that comes from your insurance company and medical providers. Never carry your Social Security card or Medicare card in your purse or wallet.
Have you ever picked up your phone only to be greeted by a record voice telling you that something is wrong with your medical records, insurance claim, or other issues? If so, you’ve already been exposed to another form of medical ID theft called voice phishing or “vishing.” The thieves hope the unwitting call recipients follow their instructions to call a number or visit a website to “verify” their information. Seniors are especially vulnerable and targeted most often.
The simplest way to protect yourself from this type of medical identity theft is to hang up the phone immediately if you say hello and there is a pause before anyone says anything. There is a 100 percent chance that the entity on the other line is either a visher or a bill collector. If you have reason to believe the call is legitimate, contact the customer service department of your insurance or medical provider directly.
Scams Perpetrated By Medical Personnel
Unfortunately there are also unscrupulous individuals within the offices of hospitals and insurance departments as well. Last summer, the UMass Memorial Medical Center paid a $66,000 settlement to the state treasury after settling a whistle-blower case brought against them. Hospital personnel would send unpaid emergency room bills to a phony address, knowing they would get no response. Several of those bills were fraudulently paid via a state emergency bad debt program, which the hospital collected, according to the Boston Globe.
Americans can request one free accounting of disclosures from their health care and insurance providers every year. Reviewing these every 12 months is the best way to ensure your privacy as it pertains to medical records.
Author: Esther Walters, Health writer, pet lover, volunteer