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Watch for Medical Identity Theft

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— Camille Tokerud/Getty Images

Just about everyone has heard about identity theft, but many people do not know about medical identity theft. In many ways they are similar. Identity theft is when someone uses your personal information to commit fraud or other crimes.

Medical identity theft is when someone uses your medical identification – such as your health insurance policy number or your Medicare or Medicaid number – to commit health care fraud. You can be harmed by medical identity theft. If someone gets health care using your name or insurance information, you may find you can’t get the health care you need. Inaccuracies in your medical records can be life-threatening if they cause you to be denied care or get the wrong care.

How do thieves steal your medical identity?

They might steal your purse or wallet or lure you into giving out your medical identification with promises of free equipment, free tests, free consultations, free gift cards – anything free. They may convince you to give out your medical numbers by leading you to believe they are a government official or work for your insurance company when they don’t. They might claim to be conducting a health survey but insist that they need your number to participate or ask to borrow your health insurance card. They might simply take medical documents out of your trash.

What can you do to protect your medical identity?

Guard your insurance card like you do your credit cards. Carry your medical number only when you know you will need it. Give your medical information numbers only to the medical professionals you know. Don’t lend your insurance card to anyone. Let only your medical professional review your medical records. Resist giving out your medical identity in exchange for a free gift or service. Shred any medical documents you no longer need.

What should you do if you think your medical identity has been stolen?

Contact your insurance company, Medicare or your local Medicaid office. You can call Medicare at 1-800-MEDICARE (800-633-4227), and a Medicare representative will order a replacement card or send you an entitlement letter if you need proof of eligibility quickly. Call the Federal Trade Commission Identity Theft Hotline at 1-877-ID-THEFT (877-438-4338). And call the Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General Fraud Hotline to file a fraud report at 800-HHS-TIPS (800-447-8477).

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