Medical identity theft becoming a big problem

Medical identity theft becoming a big problem

Melissa Luck / News4 Reporter

11/22/2006 – SPOKANE — For years, people have heard about the dangers of identity theft, people stealing your personal information to eventually get drugs or money. But there’s a new trend. It’s called medical identity theft, and tens of thousands of people could be victims and not even know it.

Medical ID theft takes things a step farther, and it could put lives danger.

Pilot and business owner Joe Ryan thought it was a joke when he opened a letter from a collection agency saying he owed more than $40,000 for a surgery he never had.

“They said I had an operation,” Ryan said, “and I went in and talked to them and I said,

‘You want to see my body?’ And they said ‘No, no.’ I said, ‘I have no scars.’”

Ryan discovered that he was a victim of medical identity theft. But what is it?

“When someone has taken your identity information, such as your name or your social security number, and they use it to get medical treatment in your name,” says Pam Dixon of the World Privacy Forum.

These imposters simply provide fake insurance information or none at all. Dixon estimates some 250,000 people have already been victims of medical identity theft.

“It’s extraordinary,” Dixon says. “You’re looking at figures that can range upwards of $100,000.”

But finances are only part of the problem. Medical identity thieves can alter health records, putting people in life-threatening situations.

“You can a wrong blood type,” says Dixon. “You can have prescriptions on your record that you don’t take.”

“What happens if I drive home today, and I get in a wreck and I have a

coma?” Ryan asks. “They bring all those medical records. You know…am I allergic to

penicillin? Is that the same blood type?”

The man Ryan believes stole his identity has since died, but the problems could haunt Ryan for years.

“Now, he’s dead. Am I dead?” says Ryan. “You know, will I ever get social security?”

More hospitals are now recognizing the crime, and are establishing programs to prevent it.

Key @ 1:32 Marie Whalen, Hospital administrator

“Any patient coming in the door we are asking them to provide ID to us,” says hospital administrator Marie Whalen, “a passport or a driver’s license.”

Whalen things the safeguards are working. “Two to three times a week,” she says. “somebody will say ‘I don’t have my ID’ or ‘I left it in the car’ and then they never return.”

How does someone know if they’ve been hit by a medical ID thief? If they receive a bill or an insurance claim in their name for medical services they’ve never received that’s a red flag.

“Go ahead to wherever the bill was, call them up and ask them for a copy of your medical file,” Dixon says. “Work to change your records. Go to the insurance company; go to every place where you think your medical file has been.”

But Dixon warns it can be tough. “Once your medical file is altered,” she says, “it’s almost impossible to get that information completely removed because it goes to so many places.”

It’s a nightmare Ryan is living every day. The crime has deeply affected his life and his business.

“My credit started slowly going down and down,” he says. “It’s horrible. It’s absolutely horrible.”

If someone wants to make sure they haven’t been a victim, they can ask their health provider or insurance company for a copy of their medical records. People have the right to see them. Those records could be the key to rebuilding credit, if someone targets it.

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