When you hear the words "identity theft," you probably think of credit cards or other types of financial accounts. Financial identity theft is the most commonly known type of identity theft. But did you know there is another type that could have deadly consequences? I am talking about medical identity theft.

What is Medical Identity Theft?

Medical identity theft occurs when someone uses your identity, such as your Social Security Number (SSN) or your health insurance information, to obtain medical services, products or treatments without your permission. This might seem like another financial issue, as in you getting a bill for services you did not receive, but it goes much deeper. When an identity thief uses your identity at a health care provider, all of the thief's symptoms, medical history, test results and blood type are recorded in a medical record under your identity. That's right, the thief's medical records could be commingled with your medical records.

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So, What's the Problem?

When a doctor makes a diagnosis, he is looking at your entire medical file, including your symptoms and your test results. If an identity thief recently had a blood test that was negative for diabetes, the doctor may decide you could not have diabetes because your blood test was fine. Remember, the thief's test results are now a part of your medical record.

What about if you are involved in an auto accident and you need an emergency blood transfusion, but the blood type in your record is not yours—it is the thief's. Are you going to get the correct type of blood? Does it matter which type of blood you receive? Absolutely! Receiving the wrong type could kill you.

What about prescription drugs? Have you ever heard of drug interactions? Certain prescription drugs cannot be taken with other types of drugs because it could cause serious complications, or even death. You doctor may decide which prescription to write for you based on the list of current prescriptions in your file. If your identity thief is not taking the same prescriptions as you, this could cause a major problem.

How to Detect Medical Identity Theft

Unfortunately, you cannot prevent someone from committing medical identity theft against you. But there are a few things you can do to detect medical identity theft:

  1. Read your Explanation of Benefits (EOB) statements from your health insurance carrier.
  2. Look at the date of the service as well as the name of the provider.
  3. Ask for copies of your medical record(s).
  4. Confirm your information with your Doctor.
  5. Ask questions when in doubt.

The last one is the most important, yet the least utilized. Never be afraid to ask questions.

Another possible way to detect medical identity theft is by reviewing your credit report. When a medical bill has not been paid, it will often end up in collections. Collection accounts are typically listed on credit reports. Keep in mind that it could take 14-24 months from the date of service before the account would show up on a credit report.

Steps to Take if You Fall Victim to Medical Identity Theft

Hopefully you will never have to use these steps, but, with the rise of healthcare data breaches, it appears to be inevitable:

  1. Request a copy of the medical record.
  2. Once received, notify the provider and/or health insurance carrier that you are a victim of identity theft.
  3. File a police report with your local law enforcement agency.
  4. Complete an identity theft affidavit.
  5. Send the police report, affidavit and a cover letter to the provider and/or the health insurance carrier requesting the fraudulent information be removed or redacted from your medical record.
  6. Place a free 90-day fraud alert on your credit report by contacting one of the following: Experian, Equifax or TransUnion.
  7. Notify all of your healthcare providers that you are a victim of identity theft.
  8. If it involves a collection account, notify the collection agency you are a victim of medical identity theft.
  9. Request written confirmation that your record(s) has been corrected and any collection accounts have closed.

As with all types of identity theft, your best defense is consistent monitoring of all of your accounts and statements. If something does not feel or sound right, do not dismiss it. Ask questions until you are satisfied. Your life may depend on it.