FOX 54 Special Report: Medical ID Theft

FOX 54 Special Report: Medical ID Theft

COLUMBUS, GA (WXTX) - Medical identity theft and medical fraud are on the rise and you could be the main cause!

In a February study by the Ponemon Institute – which conducts independent research on information security – 2.3 million adults had someone fraudulently using their personal health information for medical services in 2014.

That's up 21 percent from the year before.

Think it can't happen in Georgia or South Carolina? A woman in the Atlanta area of Kennesaw fell victim.

She did not want to go on camera. She did tell the Wall Street Journal someone used her social security number to get treatment. She found out from a collection agency.

"Once they get something like a date of birth and social security number that's golden," said Ann Patterson, program director of the Medical Identity Fraud Alliance or MIFA. "That lives on forever. They can perpetrate fraud forever and forever."

MIFA is composed of companies working to prevent this type of fraud.

Patterson says personal health information or PHI sells more on the black market than traditional financial identities such as your credit card or bank account numbers, which you can close if you have to.

That's not the case with a birthdate, social security number or your medical history.

"I can't call the hospital and close my birthdate and get a new one. I can't close my medical record and get a new one. My medical history is my medical history, that's in perpetuity. My birthdate lives on forever. All of these are converging together and the criminals know this."

Unfortunately it's very difficult to avoid fraud once someone has your medical id but there are these five ways to lessen the possibility of someone getting your identity to begin with.

First of all, check all of your health statements, explanation of benefits and invoices for unexplained medical procedures. MIFA says 50-60 percent of victims don't check their healthcare paperwork.

"When you look at those documents that's an early warning sign if you see a doctor's visit you never had, certainly if you see a surgery that you never had so you should be looking at those statement and scrutinizing them the same as you would your financial statements," Patterson said.

Next, don't just give out your social security number or date of birth to anyone claiming to be from Medicare, your health plan or hospital. Verify who you are speaking with first.

Also, don't overshare on social media.

"You see postings on social media about 'I'm on my way to the hospital wish me luck' that kinda thing so criminals see this," Patterson said. "They're good at aggregating data and creating a very rich profile of a particular individual."

You should also shred all health-related documents you no longer need.

Finally, a very simple one often overlooked is destroying labels on prescription bottles and shredding the leaflet that comes on the prescription bag.

Now if you're tempted to freeze your credit, don't. That's a waste of time.

"Freezing your credit will simply stop new lines of credit from being opened. From the healthcare side there's no way a credit freeze is going to stop someone from going into an emergency room claiming they have some sort of condition."

All of this may seem daunting but times have changed dramatically since the passage of the HITECH Act in 2009, which pushed for electronic medical records.

Now health insurers are becoming vulnerable. Last year, Anthem's database was hacked. It contained the personal information of about 80 million people.

That's a huge amount of data available to thieves, and MIFA says the first line of defense is ourselves.

This problem has huge monetary ramifications.

According to the study, two-thirds of victims had to pay an average of $13,500 to resolve the crime.

If you think you've been a victim of medical identity fraud, the first step is to notify law enforcement and file an affidavit – there is a common ID theft affidavit that's used nationwide.

You can find a link to it attached to this story, and join the conversation on social by using #MedicalIDTheft.

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