By Lisa Zamosky
Medical identify theft occurs when someone uses another person’s personal, identifiable information, such as an insurance card or social security number, to obtain medical care.
According to a new survey, medical identity theft is a $41 billion a year problem affecting 2 million Americans.
The Third Annual Survey on Medical Identity Theft commissioned by Experian’s ProtectMyID questioned 757 victims. The survey found that the estimated total cost of medical identity theft increased between 2011 and 2012 by roughly $10 billion – rising from $30.9 billion in 2011 to $41 billion in 2012.
What’s more, there is a huge personal cost to having your medical identity stolen. Individuals spend $22,346, on average, to resolve the issues that arise from the theft, a dollar amount that’s up by 10% from last year’s $20,663.
I talked with Ken Chaplin, senior vice president of marketing for Experian’s ProtectMyID. He offers the following 5 tips for avoiding medical identify theft as well as what to do if you learn that you’ve become a victim.
1. Protect your information: “We find that identify theft in general and especially medical identity theft, is a crime of opportunity,” Chaplin says. Like credit card information, health insurance cards should be kept in a secure location. Leaving personal information out on a desk, for example, may tempt a passerby.
2. Remember your insurance card: “We all carry our medical I.D. around with us but if you were to lose your wallet or handbag you might forget it’s there and be slow to report it,” Chaplin says. Keep a record of what’s in your wallet and be sure to include your insurance company on your list of companies to call if your information is lost.
3. Read your mail: Explanations of Benefits (EOB) are statements sent to you by your insurance company that outline the care your doctor provided and what’s being charged. According to Chaplin, this statement can provide an early alert that your insurance is being charged for a service you didn’t receive. “Unfortunately, because people don’t read [EOBs], the first time they find out something is wrong is when they receive a collection notice,” Chaplin says.
Pay attention to the EOB statements you receive from your insurer and confirm that the services listed were rendered to you.
4. Take action: If you receive a collection notice about medical care gone unpaid don’t ignore it and assume it’s not yours simply because you didn’t receive the care mentioned in the notice. “This could be a first alert that your medical identify was stolen,” Chaplin says.
5. Report the crime: 50% of people surveyed said they didn’t report medical identity theft because they knew the person who stole it. In fact, 35% of respondents reported they were victimized by a family member.
The reluctance to report a member of your family or close friend is understandable. But Chaplin points out that medical identify theft is a crime. By reporting the theft to your insurer and by filing a police report, you’ll establish a paper trail that can make it easier to resolve the financial and other complications that often result from medical identification theft.
Have you ever been a victim of medical identity theft? Share your story in the comments section.