If you feel like you are starting to get the flu, going to the doctor’s office can get you some medicine and get you on the road to recovery. But, there’s no pill or surgery that can protect you from medical identity theft—which can kill you. Literally. The thief who steals your identity doesn’t mean to kill you; he just wants to obtain free medical care on your dime.
If a thief has access to your personal information, he can pose as you and see doctors and have procedures done—for free or for a nominal copay. The crook uses fake IDs and phony insurance cards to pull off this scam.
The problem really starts kicking in when the imposter’s medical situation gets tacked onto your medical record—since they are posing as you. This can result in a number of harmful outcomes for you. Not only can it potentially cause misdiagnoses, you could be issued a prescription to a drug that you have a fatal reaction to.
Just think about it for a moment: Someone else’s medical condition getting integrated with yours. This can cause a lot of problems. You could be denied medical coverage or lose your current coverage because of false information in your medical records. In the United States, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) protects your right of access to your medical records. If someone else is pretending to be you and accessing your records, you might not be able to access your own records. That’s a scary thought.
But even you are lucky enough not to suffer any negative consequences to your health as a result of the medical identity theft, cleaning up the mess can be enough to give anyone a heart attack.
So how can you prevent becoming a victim of medical identity theft?
- Protect your mail: Install a locking mailbox so no one can access your mail.
- Keep medical documents secure: Keep all of your hard copy medical documents in a file that locks. If it’s in cyberspace, make sure the files are encrypted and not in folder on your desktop that says “Medical.”
- Shred all medical documents: Make sure to properly dispose of your medical documents so you don’t become a victim to dumpster-diving thieves. This includes digital files as well.McAfee LiveSafe (put tm in here and links this) service comes with a digital shredder that uses higher than government standard file shredding—don’t rely on simply putting something in the “trash bin” on your computer and then emptying it.
- Leave medical cards at home: Only take them when you are visiting the doctor. If you’re worried you might need them in the event you have an accident and need immediate medical treatment, memorize your health ID number. If you’re unconscious upon arriving at an ER, you’ll get treated anyways—it’s the law. Simply provide your medical card after the fact. Don’t carry identity cards either: Identification cards or Social Security number cards should also be left at home in a safe place. Since many medical systems use these numbers as your identifier on the policy, you don’t want them falling into the wrong hands. And with access to these cards, a thief could easily create the fake credentials needed to commit medical identity theft.
Robert Siciliano is an Online Security Expert to McAfee. He is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Mobile was Hacked! Disclosures.