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Medical Identity Theft 101: How To Ensure Your Safety

If you've been a victim of any kind of theft, you've likely felt surprised, angry and shaken. Identity theft, including medical identity theft, can be far-reaching in its effects and consequences — in ways you may not have anticipated. Learn about who is at risk, how to keep your family safe and what to do if you've been targeted.

How Medical Identity Theft Happens

Thieves can target your medical identity in many ways, using your social security number, health insurance identification number, address or email address to steal medical services or devices, as Consumer Reports explains. They may fraudulently use your information to pay for prescriptions, medical or dental office visits or even expensive surgeries. Unfortunately, this type of theft is on the rise, with 2.3 million cases identified in 2014.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) states that you should be especially wary of anyone asking for your medical health insurance information in exchange for free services or equipment. Scammers may also call and pretend to be from clinics, pharmacies, doctors' offices or insurance offices. If you're seeking dental treatment from a clinic, the business should have a legitimate license, permit and physical address.

Who Is at Risk?

Anyone with a medical record can become a victim of this kind of theft. This crime can be particularly harmful because it can incorrectly alter your records and finances. As the American Association for Clinical Chemistry reports, it's difficult for patients to have medical histories corrected, even if they were changed fraudulently. This can result in anything from misdiagnoses to delays in care. At the extreme, it can lead to wrongful criminal charges or even intervention where children are concerned, according to Consumer Reports. Because consumer protections aren't specifically tailored to this type of theft, it can be even more difficult to surmount.

Medical identity scammers are more likely to target new mothers, patients with cancer or other serious illnesses, people undergoing surgery or individuals with chronic conditions such as diabetes because they interact more frequently with the healthcare system, explains Consumer Reports

Steps to Ensure Your Safety

Protect your identity by shredding any documents with personal data before disposing of them and storing your personal information in a safe place. Likewise, it's always best to not share information on insecure sites or through email or phone if you have not initiated contact.

If you think you've been the target of this crime, there are steps you can take that will help, as the FTC outlines.

1. Report the Theft: File a police report to ensure you'll have records to support your dispute. Also report the theft to the FTC using its identity theft reporting tool. The organization offers a recovery plan, which explains the steps you'll need to take depending on the type of identity theft you've experienced. With the reporting tool and recovery plan, you can reduce the frustration and hassle of piecing together the many actions you may need to take.

2. Gather Copies of Medical and Financial Records: By law, you can request your medical records. Keep copies of all your medical and financial records to track any disparities, and report these right away. It may take time to contact every dental office, medical office, hospital or pharmacy you've visited, but once you do, you'll have a comprehensive look at what's accurate or false.

3. Request Disclosures: You have a right to receive a report of who obtained copies of your medical records every 12 months. The report will show what was sent to whom and why.

4. Put a Freeze on Credit Reports: Along with the precautionary steps you would typically take for identity theft, such as closing your credit cards, place a freeze to restrict access to your credit report. You can do this by contacting each of the three major credit bureaus in the U.S.

5. Dispute Records: Ask your medical provider to correct your records and include a copy of your identity theft report. Track these requests by certified mail, making copies of all your requests.

While having your medical identity stolen can be frightening, following these steps and leveraging these resources can help you fight back against this type of theft and safeguard your personal information.

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