Urgent danger of medical ID theft
Medical identity theft is a growing problem that can take years to unravel if it happens to you, and it’s potentially deadly dangerous. An identity thief might use your insurance for a “once in a lifetime” procedure, like an appendectomy, which could block you from getting the same procedure in an emergency. Or they might submit a claim for conditions you don’t have, and lead to a doctor to misdiagnose you or give you the wrong medication.
Unfortunately, very few people think about medical identity theft. A report from the Identity Theft Resource Center says that the healthcare industry was responsible for 44% of all data breaches last year, but you probably didn’t hear about most of them. But that’s finally changing.
Medical identity theft is coming into the spotlight thanks to the Anthem Insurance data breach that came to light earlier this month. It single-handedly exposed the Social Security and medical information for up to 80 million Anthem customers.
However, even with medical ID theft on the radar, it’s going to get much worse before it gets better. I’m going to tell you why thieves want medical info, how the healthcare industry makes it easy for them to get and then I’ll tell you some ways to stay safe.
Why steal medical info?
A thief with your name, Social Security number and medical insurance number has a lot of opportunities to make money.
They can get medical treatment or prescription drugs on your dime, which can mess up your health records and deny you important coverage. Some use your info to bill Medicare and Medicaid for fake procedures and orders.
Overall, medical fraud in the U.S. nets criminals anywhere from $80 billion to $230 billion a year. In fact, a medical identity is much more profitable for thieves than your non-medical identity.
Not only that, consumers are starting to get smart about checking their bank statements and credit reports to look for fraud. When was the last time you inspected your medical insurance bill with a fine-toothed comb?
Most people don’t even realize someone is using their info until they’re denied for a procedure or get a collection notice on an outrageous bill. Unfortunately, the healthcare industry makes it too easy for thieves.
How the healthcare industry fails
To be blunt, the healthcare industry is a mess. I’ll leave out the politics that surround the issues and focus just on the technical side. The thing to remember is that there are thousands of hospital organizations, independent hospitals, private practice doctors, specialists and more in the country, along with dozens of insurance companies and multiple government health agencies.
Problem one is that they all use different systems that may or may not be compatible. Communication is slow and incomplete. That leaves a lot of holes for hackers to sneak through and makes it hard to spot patterns of fraud.
Problem two is that until recently most health organizations used physical patient records, and then they were forced to switch over to electronic record keeping in a matter of years. That means that the change was fast and messy, and there was no chance to really test the security of the systems.
Problem three is the fact that medical organizations have never needed to be security conscious before. A locked filing cabinet and a warning not to talk about confidential patient information over the phone or through email was about as far as they needed to go.
That doesn’t just mean computer security is lacking, but many medical employees aren’t expected to know basic security concepts. Again, this isn’t really their fault, but it’s not a good thing for you.
Add all this up and you can see why hackers who are used to tackling long-standing, proven high-end banking and e-commerce security are having a field day.
What can you do?
I’m sorry to say that when it comes to your healthcare provider’s security, there’s not much you can do. A few larger hospitals and insurance providers are starting to work toward a more bank-like system of standardized information, communication and fraud detection, which could pay off in a decade.
Large tech companies like Apple are also working to streamline healthcare, which should make it more secure in the process. Again, that’s going to be a few years away for most people.
For now, you need to keep a close eye on your medical insurance bills. Go over every charge and make sure you know what they are. If you spot something that’s wrong, talk to your insurance provider immediately.
You should also know what information you shouldn’t give out, what “free” health services are fake and other critical information of that nature. Read this essential tip to learn all that and more.
Finally, when it comes to any kind of identity theft, you need a safety net. Fortunately, I know a great one.
I’m talking about LifeLock. I’ve been a subscriber for years, even before it was my advertiser, because it offers comprehensive protection that just can’t be beat. In fact, I recommend it to all my friends and family.
It has the basics like instant alerts, credit monitoring and scrutiny of black market sites for your stolen information. However, LifeLock also has a superior U.S.-based customer service team and other great features like free wallet replacement, sex offender alerts and things you wouldn’t even think to ask for in an identity theft protection service, but really need.