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Be alert to the rise in medical identity fraud

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Columnist Sandy Sand puts a spotlight on all the medical troubles that can follow when a fraudster gets access to your Social Security number.

We’ve all heard of identity theft, but until this headline, “Avoiding medical identity theft to be discussed” in the Pasadena Star News caught my eye, I had no idea that identity theft for the sole purpose of scamming doctors, hospitals, pharmacies and insurance companies existed.

The story itself contained two sentences. One announced a free meeting presented by Pasadena (California) Legal Services at a local community senior center; the other gave a phone number for information and listed a Web site.

That was it. Wanting to know more about this illegal practice I’d never heard of, I Googled “medical identity theft” and got 15,500,000 hits, ranging from hawking medical theft protection insurance to articles, most of which dated back to 2007, and only one article as recent as June of last year.
Maybe I didn’t look hard enough, but I can only spend so much time searching. I figured that more than 15 million sites proved this is a real problem as did the Star News’ promoting a free lecture on the subject.

Apparently stealing identities for the purpose of medical fraud is easier than taking a treat away from a child and just as despicable.

All one who knows what he's doing needs is a person’s Social Security number.

“In addition to financial peril, victims can suffer physical danger if false entries in medical records lead to the wrong treatment,” according to a study released by Temple University in 2007. “The crime occurs when someone uses a person's name and sometimes other parts of their identity — such as insurance information — without the person's knowledge or consent to obtain medical services or goods,” said co-author Laurinda Harman, PhD., RHIA, associate professor and chair of the Health Information Management Department at Temple University’s College of Health Professions.

She said there are growing concerns medical identity theft as more facilities move to electronic record keeping.

The non-profit, non-partisan research organization World Privacy Forum, said it received 20,000 reports of medical identity theft over the past 15 years.

They went on to state that medical identity theft frequently results in erroneous entries recorded in existing medical records, and can involve the creation of fictitious medical records in the victim's name at various medical facilities. This trail of falsified information in medical records can plague victims' medical and financial lives for years.

When one’s medical I.D. is stolen, they can be refused medical treatment, have their insurance cancelled or their rates jacked up, and it can cost them a lot of money to straighten out an impossible situation they’ve found themselves in at no fault of their own.

Health reporter Judith Graham offered a helpful critique on the spread of medical identity theft and how to protect yourself against it in a 2008 blog post in the Chicago Tribune. It’s worth checking out. The World Privacy Forum also has an FAQ for those who find themselves a victim of medical identity theft.

Subscribe to comments feed Comments (2 posted):

m3 real  on 03/16/2010 23:03:57
Such thefts can cost the victims money, but also risk physical harm, because inaccurate medical information, such as blood type, may be recorded in patient records. The thieves are often health care insiders, such as accounting department staff.
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digital camera memory cards on 03/19/2010 21:04:05
it is also risk physical harm, because inaccurate medical information, such as blood type, may be recorded in patient records.
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