Medical identity theft is the fastest-growing type of identity theft in the U.S. A lot of publicity has been centered around data breaches lately, as more hospitals and clinics transfer patient records to electronic medical databases that can be accessed by physicians and medical personnel throughout the country. While the risk of a data breach increases as more businesses rely on technology, criminals have found another way to commit medical identity theft without breaking into a patient's records: stealing health insurance cards.
As some medical offices may not ask for proper identification, criminals that obtain another individual's insurance card can obtain medical services, prescription medications and even costly procedures, according to the Patriot-News online publication.
In response to the increasing incidence of these crimes, some local doctors' offices are tightening their identification standards by not only asking for insurance cards but also a driver's license. Some have even begun taking photographs of their patients to thwart potential cases of identity theft, the Patriot-News reports.
Citing the 2010 Identity Fraud Survey Report by Javelin Research, the newspaper reports that the number of identity theft victims whose health insurance information was stolen rose 3 percent from 2009, totaling 7 percent. Given these figures, health insurance officials are urging consumers to safeguard their insurance cards as they would any other piece of sensitive information, such as their Social Security number or ATM card.
As identity theft in the medical field becomes increasingly common, the Federal Trade Commission has placed hospitals and health clinics under the scope of the Red Flag rules set to go into effect January 1, 2011. However, the American Medical Association has launched a lawsuit against the FTC and seeks to be exempted from the new legislation. The current language of the Red Flags initiative requires the FTC to urge "creditors" and "lending institutions" to draft industry-specific guidelines for detecting and resolving identity theft. Doctors are disputing their inclusion, arguing that they are neither creditors nor lending institutions. The FTC contends that because doctors provide up-front services to patients and allow them to pay their bill in installments, they fall under the definition of a creditor.
Consumers may be able to better detect an incidence of medical identity theft by obtaining a copy of their credit report for review once a year. Additionally, consumers can request that their insurance company provide a list of all medical claims submitted.