Most consumers are aware of what to do if a thief steals their credit cards or somehow gets their bank account information. But some may not be aware that they can get just as many financial headaches if a fraudster gets ahold of their medical information.
According to a report from the Orange County Register, medical identity theft is a growing problem both in the Golden State and nationwide. It's a big problem for consumers because if a thief gets their insurance information illegally and goes to a hospital for treatment, the consumer can be stuck with a huge medical bill and incorrect health information in their file.
Mari Frank, an author and expert in preventing identity theft, told the paper that medical identity theft is becoming more common. This is because thieves are now more aware of how little people pay attention to their medical insurance and details. In most cases, consumers won't learn about medical identity theft until the fraudulent bills go unpaid for so long that they are sent to collections agencies. She noted that a recent study found 1.25 million Americans were victimized by this type of medical fraud last year, and many of those were also the victims of financial identity theft.
A problem with medical identity theft is that it can not only cost a consumer thousands of dollars in fraudulent bills, but can also affect health insurance availability if they decide to change carriers, Frank told the newspaper. If the fraudster is treated for a medical problem under a consumer's name, that problem shows up in their medical records. If the problem is severe enough, they could be denied by other insurers for a preexisting condition that they don't have. Another issue is that the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act has some provisions that could make it difficult to dispute medical records for other people, even if they got treatment under another person's name.
Frank told the paper that there aren't solid statistics on how these crimes take place because only 10 percent of identity theft victims ever find out how it happened. However, many consumers have recently been affected by security breaches at large hospitals or insurance companies.
Earlier this month, the state of Connecticut began investigating how a major health insurer could have allowed the information of almost 500,000 people to be compromised.