Medical identity theft is when someone uses your personal information, especially a Medicare or health insurance number, to get treatment, prescriptions or medical devices, submit claims, or obtain benefits under your name.
It’s a growing menace: Cases of medical ID theft reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) rose from about 6,800 in 2017 to nearly 43,000 in 2021. And it's a particularly insidious form of identity fraud, for a number of reasons:
- It can cost far more than purely financial identity theft. Federal law generally limits consumers’ liability for fraudulent credit card charges to $50, but there are no such protections for a stolen medical identity. Among victims of medical ID theft surveyed in 2015 by the Ponemon Institute, a cybersecurity research firm, those who lost money spent an average of $13,500 to resolve the problem, including legal as well as medical costs.
- It’s considerably harder to undo the damage. Financial and personal complications “can endure for years,” the World Privacy Forum said in a 2017 report, with many victims suffering “long term problems with aggressive medical debt collection” and severely impaired credit due to phony bills. Some even have faced prosecution because thieves used their identities to stockpile prescription drugs.
- It can harm your health as well as your finances, potentially causing treatment delays, incorrect prescriptions and misdiagnoses. As the FTC notes, “If a scammer gets treatment in your name, that person’s health problems could become a part of your medical record. It could affect your ability to get medical care and insurance benefits, and could even affect decisions made by doctors treating you later on.”