Priorities change during a recession. People tend to go out less, eat at home more, and make do without all the material luxuries they're used to. In the grander picture, this isn't a terrible result. But on the darker side, there's usually a rise in negative attitudes, unemployment and of course, crime. And identity theft is no exception. In fact, cases of identity fraud in times of economic distress jump up at an alarming rate.
With healthcare costs becoming an increasing burden, thieves will stop at nothing to take what they can, at your expense – and physical health. It sounds unfathomable to steal healthcare from some who is sick, but it's been happening for years.
How Can Healthcare Be Stolen?
It seems unlikely that identity theft can happen in the medical world. After all, that's what patient/doctor privacy is for, right? But with increasingly electronic means of managing patient records and insurance information, medical fraud is happening and there's nothing too far out of reach for thieves. Before electronic record-keeping, the only real risk patients had were break-ins at hospitals. Nowadays, there is the threat of hackers infiltrating hospital files through the internet to steal data and insurance information.
Information stolen from insurance cards, medical bills, and healthcare provider statements in the mail are also ways that your identity is at risk.
How Can It Affect Me?
In addition to the mental stress of dealing with restoring your identity, there's an even bigger issue at hand: the physical implications. There have been cases when files have been stolen and altered, so that the patient is later dangerously misdiagnosed and doesn't receive the proper healthcare.
Inability to Receive Care
Depending on the healthcare plan, a patient may be allowed a limited number of treatments or prescription refills. If the information is stolen, then the real patient may be denied treatment or necessary prescriptions until the issue is resolved.
In one rare case, a mother whose identity was stolen by someone who gave birth to a baby that tested positive for drugs was approached by social workers and questioned on her ethics. It was a long battle to prove her innocence and maintain the right to keep her own children.
One of the most common results of ID fraud is a huge bill for a treatment you didn't have. Many thieves will use your medical insurance cards for office visits and even major surgery, only to have you slapped with the bill later. Sometimes, the treatments are so outrageous and out of character that the case is an open-shut one. Other times, it can be much harder to prove that you didn't indeed receive the treatment.
If you've received an expensive bill that you can't pay off while you're in the process of rectifying your ID theft, your credit history may be jeopardized. This is why you should follow up with your doctor or insurance provider on a regular basis to make sure nothing out of the ordinary has occurred.
Identity fraud can even affect your employment in some cases. When there is incorrect information in your files, it may hinder you from obtaining employment in certain industries.
How Do I Avoid Getting Hurt?
• Keep in regular contact with your doctor or hospital, especially if you haven't in a long time.
• Open bills and statements right away and read everything carefully, looking for any inconsistencies and odd charges. If you see anything out of the norm, then report it to your doctor immediately.
• Never leave your health insurance card lying around in waiting rooms or hospital rooms unattended.
• Don't give out your social security number and instead use your medical ID number.