Most people have heard about identity theft and bank fraud, but surprisingly many people have not heard about medical identity theft.

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Considering that more than 2 million people a year are victims of medical identity theft and that its rising at an alarming rate each year, it’s time that everyone became aware of this growing problem. 

So, what is medical identity theft? Medical identity theft happens when somebody steals some key information, like your Social Security number, your Medicare number, a health insurance plan number or similar info. They use this to buy drugs, get treatment, submit claims to Medicare for reimbursement and in some cases have surgery – all in the victim’s name.

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It’s a nightmare for the victim for several reasons. First, it can be costly. One estimate is that over 65% of medical identity theft victims paid at least $13,500 to resolve their problem, even though there was no fault on their part. In addition, thieves can steal a lot of money from Medicare, considering how costly medical treatment and medications can be.  However, the worst part is the emotional harm done to the victims. Many suffer through years of debt collection phone calls, letters and harassment, with constant threats of being served collection notices at work.  

How Does this Happen?

There are many ways people become victims of medical identity theft, just as there are many ways that people become victims of every other type of identity theft and fraud. Cyberthieves send out all types of phishing emails to gather information about a person. If someone opens that email, malware is downloaded into the person’s computer and the problems start to happen. 

Another way thieves get the needed information to do medical identity theft is when a data breach happens. In 2015, for example, according to one study by the Ponemon Institute, there were over 300 data breaches related to medical records. This impacted over 10.5 million compromised medical records. 

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Another problem is that the targets are usually elderly, so phishing and phone scams are quite common. A lot of information is also gathered by cybercrooks by searching through people search sites. Personal and financial information is readily available there, and often they can find Social Security numbers and Medicare information. That’s all they need to begin their medical identity fraud. One reason cyberthieves are so intent on stealing medical information is because they can make a lot of money selling it to other cybercrooks on the dark web. For example, selling a stolen credit card number will generate $110, while medical identity information will sell for $1,000 and more. 

Are You a Victim?

While detecting medical identity theft isn’t easy, there are some tell-tale signs that it’s happening to you. For example, if you receive calls from debt collectors for medical procedures or equipment you never had, or if you see a lot ot activity on your credit report relating to medical charges, or if your health plan sends you an explanation of benefits (EOB) statement that you are completely unfamiliar with, someone is most likely committing medical identity theft against you. 

If this happens, contact your health plan or your medical provider immediately. You should also report the fraud to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and immediately file a fraud report with the Federal Trade Commission

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Preventing Medical Identity Theft

With such a major problem regarding medical identity theft, many resources have been dedicated to help preventing the theft in the first place. People can help by following some simple prevention strategies on their own. For example, if any of your health plan or insurance information is misplaced or stolen, ask for new plan numbers and new ID cards.

Never share your plan information with anyone, including people who call representing that they are from the health plan. Also, never send out any numbers or information via email, even if asked by the health plan. This will prevent unauthorized people from getting your key information. 

Keep copies of your medical records, and be sure to check your medical records once a year. Monitor your credit with the 3 major credit bureaus once a year, just to be sure there aren’t any collections or adverse entries about unpaid medical bills. They include Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. Or, you can check all 3 using annualcreditreport.com, a free service that will show your credit report at no cost to you.

One of the most important things to do to prevent cyberthieves from getting your personal and financial information is to remove any unauthorized information from people search sites, as this is where cybercriminals go to get key information about you. The problem is that there are more than 100 people search sites that have stored information, and you need to be sure to visit each one and opt out. That could take weeks if not longer, because each one of those sites has their own rules and methods of removing information. 

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To make your life easier, use OneRep, a tool that will automatically remove all of your unauthorized information from every single people search site like Pipl, BeenVerified and Spokeo. This will help to minimize the amount of information about you that people can use to commit medical identity theft and make you a victim. 

By following the recommendations contained within this article, you will help to prevent becoming a victim of medical identity theft. By being proactive the moment you suspect something is amiss, you will avoid months, if not years, of heartache and grief that’s common for victims of medical identity theft.