With increasing amounts of personal health information stored on the Internet, a new survey reveals medical identity theft is on the rise and shows few people take steps to protect themselves from the theft.
The 2013 Survey on Medical Identity Theft shows that the number of victims of such fraud increased by 20 percent in the last year, affecting an estimated 1.8 million people.
The report, released Thursday, defines medical identity theft as someone using an individual’s name and personal identity to fraudulently receive medical services, goods, and/or prescription drugs. Fraudulent billing also is an issue.
The survey was conducted by the Traverse-City based Ponemon Institute and sponsored by the Medical Identity Fraud Alliance, with support from ID experts.
The Fraud Alliance, the first cooperative public-private sector effort involving all stakeholders in protecting consumers, was recently formed to fight the problem. Henry Ford Health System is a charter member.
“The expectation of having anything private anymore is not very high,” says Marjorie Mitchell, executive director of Michigan Universal Health Access Network. “There are so many companies now that have information on us, the question is: As you utilize more health care, how secure is that data?”
The survey also finds that consumers often put themselves at risk by sharing their medical identification with family members or friends — unintentionally committing “family fraud” — to obtain medical services or treatment, health care products, or pharmaceuticals.
Other study findings include:
- Half of consumers surveyed are not aware that medical identity theft can create life-threatening inaccuracies in their medical records, which could result in a misdiagnosis, mistreatment, or the wrong prescriptions.
- Half of consumers surveyed are not aware that medical identity theft can create permanent, life-threatening inaccuracies and permanent damage to their medical records.
- Fifty percent of respondents did not take any steps to protect themselves from medical identity theft.
- Thirty percent of respondents knowingly permitted a family member to use their personal identification to obtain medical services including treatment, healthcare products, or pharmaceuticals.
The Fraud Alliance recommends that individuals be the first line of defense in protecting their health information, and suggests reviewing all explanation of benefits; protecting your medical insurance card and any insurance-related paperwork; being careful when giving out personal or insurance information; and reviewing credit reports annually.