Understanding Medical Identity Theft and ways of preventing it

Medical Identity Theft is a common phenomenon in today's situation, where most health records are digitized. Although a lot of precaution goes into the security and protection of these records, Medical Identity Theft is a cause for worry.

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The most common types of data that are stolen are Social Security Number (SSN), name and the Medicare number, the most potent tools with which to impersonate and manipulate data.

Why do crooks steal medical data?

Medical Identity Theft happens mainly because hackers and mischief-makers access protected data to lay hands on confidential information about patients, using which they obtain medical care on behalf of the person/s whose records they steal or purchase expensive medicines. In many cases, a Medical Identity Theft is detected only after one gets a bill for a purchase or service that was never made.

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Medical Identity Theft is also committed to buy drugs and obtain fake bills that are then submitted to Medicare in the name of the original holder of the medical record. These acts can significantly dent a person's credit rating. More importantly, when wrong information or fictitious diagnosis is made into the medical record, it can lead to dangerous consequences.

Ways of protection of medical data

The Office of the Inspector General (OIG), which comes under Health and Human Services (HHS), realizing the gravity of the problem of Medical Identity Theft, has formulated the "3D" approach to protect medical data and prevent Medical Identity Theft.

These are:

Deter: One of the ways of protecting medical data is to prevent Medical Identity Theft. Users should be cautious about parting with information to anyone who claims, over phone, to have a new scheme whose enrolment requires the Social Security Number.

Detect:Many fraudsters accost people at accessible public places to announce supposedly "new" medical schemes. Governments don't need to use such touts to announce schemes. Do they?

Also, one should make sure never to take the help of a stranger to pay a bill. Naturally, this will require parting with the Medicare id. Once this is done, the stranger has total access to the person's medical data.

Defend: It pays to keep regularly checking for any unauthorized payment or deduction made in a user's name, even if it is of only a few cents. Many organized tricksters collect the confidential information to access and siphon off very small, usually unnoticeable amounts on a regular basis. This may not hurt much, but what these smart fraudsters do is to do the same with thousands of users in a systematic and planned manner over a period of time. This is a very subtle form of Medical Identity Theft at which some organized gangs have gained mastery.

Whom to contact when Medical Identity Theft is suspected?

Whenever Medicare fraud is suspected, the Office of Inspector General's Hotline can be approached at the following contact numbers:

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This office can also be accessed online at OIG.HHS.gov/fraud/hotline