1. Health

How to Prevent Medical Identity Theft

These Steps Will Help Keep Your Identity Safe


Updated April 16, 2012

Have you had your medical identity stolen? Sharing your story will be empowering to you. Please share your medical identity theft experience with others.

Medical identity theft, the loss that takes place when someone steals your personally identifying numbers and codes from your insurance card, Medicare identity card, or straight from your medical records, is growing in frequency and becoming more dangerous.

There are some steps you can take to be sure your medical identity is protected, as follows:

  • If you are like most of us, you receive plenty of paperwork from each doctor visit, lab visit and hospital stay. You probably also receive more paperwork in the mail - it may be duplicated or may be new. The paperwork may reflect your personal health records, or it may be insurance information. No matter how you've acquired medical paperwork, you'll need to decide what is worth keeping, and what can be thrown away.

    If you decide to keep the information, then file it away somehow so it's not out in the open. Visitors to your home, no matter why they are there, don't need to see your private medical records, whether or not you are worried about them making use of any personally identifying information.

    If you decide the paperwork isn't important enough to keep, then shred it before you dispose of it. Also, recycle the shredded papers because the shreds will go off to be processed somewhere - chewed up, spit out, burned or melted, and turned into something else instead of simply ending up in a landfill.

  • To protect your medical insurance information, carefully review any paperwork provided by the doctor's office or your insurance company to make sure you were the recipient of all of the described services. If you remember to ask for copies of your medical records with each visit, and if you review your EOB (Explanation of Benefits) that your insurer sends to you after each doctor, lab or hospital visit, then you'll be able to stay on top of this. If anything at all looks odd, like an appointment you didn't have, or a blood type that is inaccurate, or a drug you don't take, then contact your doctor or your insurance company to have it reviewed.

  • When you make a doctor appointment, ask them to verify the last visit you made, just to double check that you, and not someone else pretending to be you, has been to see your doctor.

  • Avoid providing a social security number to your doctor, or at any time you check in for medical services. There was a period of time that doctors were collecting social security numbers to collect on medical debt, based on the "Red Flag Rule." However, in late 2010 a new law was passed to exempt doctors from being considered the same type of creditor as others who must follow those rules. If your doctor or his/her staff tells you they are required to collect it, you can quote that law - tell them that doctors are not beholden to Red Flag Rules. (That should show them you know what you are talking about!)

  • If you are contacted by someone offering you discounts or free medical equipment, drugs, or other medical needs, and they tell you that all they need from you is a social security, insurance or Medicare number, see that as a red flag (not the same kind as above - but red all the same). You'll want to report them. "Free" doesn't require those numbers.

  • If you get a phone call offering discounts on equipment, or offering to pay you for taking a survey, or for any reason at all relating to your health (or finances) - and they ask for a social security number or insurance or Medicare or Medicaid number, or if they offer you money to "buy" those numbers from you - forget about it! It's a scam, and if you actually sell that information, you will be arrested. It's illegal.

  • If you are contacted by someone claiming to be a bill collector, no matter what the reason (medical or credit card or any other reason), never share your personal numbers with them. If they are really bill collectors, they already have those numbers. If they aren't, they are trying to steal your identity.

  • If you are tempted to keep any of your medical records online (PHR = personal health records), think it through carefully. There are a number of well-known web providers who would love nothing more than your medical records so they can sell your information to advertisers. There is no security there. There are some good PHR programs available, but you need to be discerning.

  • Be constantly vigilant to be sure no one else is pretending to be you. Ask questions as necessary and never be afraid to double check billing and testing details.

Your life may depend on it.

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