How to avoid a more dangerous identity theft

Here and Now

This story was originally reported by PRI’s Here and Now. For more, listen to the audio above.

Standard identity theft costs an average of about $4,800. Medical identity theft, though less common and less well known, costs a little over $12,000 on average. It can happen in two main forms:

1. Criminals steal your information and use it to obtain medical goods and services, like drugs or costly surgeries.
2. Criminals use people’s names and information to bill for procedures that are never done.

A woman in California was billed $12,000 for liposuction that she never had, Margaret Collins of Bloomberg Businessweek reports on PRI’s “Here and Now.” Another man who Collins talked to didn’t discover that his identity was stolen until he went to buy his home. When he checked his credit report, he saw numerous unpaid emergency medical services including a Life Flight helicopter service costing about $19,000. The criminal had likely changed the address on the bills, so the fraud wasn’t discovered until the victim needed his then-ruined credit.

Medical identity theft often takes longer to uncover than regular identity theft, because people don’t check their medical records as often as their credit card statements. And medical fraud can be easier, too, since hospitals don’t always ask for identification. That may be changing, though, as hospitals like the Mayo Clinic have begun asking for photos to be attached to people’s medical records.

The medical fraud can be life threatening, too. If a doctor thinks a person has had a procedure that he or she hasn’t, it can cloud a doctor’s judgment.

The number medical identity theft doubled between 2008 and 2009, according to a report cited by Collins. Though some think digitizing medical records could help prevent fraud, Collins points out that it could also enable more large-scale theft operations. And among the millions of uninsured Americans, Collins points out that some people are selling their medical insurance cards or giving it to their friends to defraud insurance companies and hospitals into medical procedures.

To avoid medical identity theft, Collins suggests asking for a copy of your insurance claim file once each year. She also recommends asking for a copy of your medical records after appointments. That way, people will have something to show investigators, if their medical identities are stolen.

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