Medical identity theft can be a nightmare for those unlucky enough to become victim to it. The repercussions of this theft can endanger your life at the time you need medical assistance the most. Stats reveal that well over two million Americans have become victims of this scourge. Medical identity theft refers to the theft of your personal information such as name, Social Security Number (SSN) or Medicare number in order to obtain medical services, purchase drugs, or submit fake billings to Medicare using your name. Medical identity theft has a number of far-reaching consequences for victims. For starters, it can damage your credit rating. Even worse than this, if wrong information is added to your medical history, it can have life-threatening consequences for you whenever you do access medical care. In addition to all of these, medical identity theft can leads you to thousands of dollars in medical bills. The consequences of such breaches can be daunting. However, there are steps that every individual can take in order to protect themselves.
Here are 5 ways that you can stop yourself from becoming a victim.
Be Stingy With Your Information - The less information you put out is the less there is to be used against you. At doctors' offices, hospitals and with our insurers, we are called upon to share lots of sensitive information. However, sometimes sharing this information is unnecessary and if leaked can be used to steal our identities. For this reason, we should only give out sensitive information on a need-to-know basis. For instance do not share your Social Security Number with health care providers unless they absolutely have to have it. In addition to this, it will be a good idea to ask upfront if certain pieces of information like your SSN, your driver's license and date of birth are really necessary to process you as a patient. Many times health care professionals use your SSN only as an identifying number and you should ask if another identifier will do. These precautions are especially important when asked to give sensitive information over the phone or over insecure internet connections. Lastly, individuals need to be aware of scams in which unscrupulous parties try to access your information by impersonating authorized individuals over the phone.
Learn to Spot Phishing Emails - Phishing describes the practice of unauthorized persons tricking individuals into revealing confidential information such as passwords, credit card numbers, social security and bank account numbers. They accomplish this by installing malware on your computer or by sending legitimate-looking emails purporting to be from reputable companies. In those emails, scammers share bogus links that ask individual to submit sensitive information. The end result is having your identity stolen and credit history used to access various goods and services. To prevent yourself from become a victim of phishing, change your passwords regularly. Also, when available, use 2-factor authentication for email and other accounts. It is also worthwhile learning how to spot phishing emails by verifying the address from which your email was sent. Email addresses used an established company should end with the company's domain name for example, email@example.com. Lastly, after clicking on a link provided in an email, ensure that the domain in the address field is the same as the company that you believe yourself to be dealing with.
Store Your Information Carefully - However you choose to store your medical information, be sure to secure it sufficiently. Whether these records exist on paper or are digital records, individuals should take every step necessary in order to prevent these records from leaking. Medical records should be treated just like you would treat any other sensitive information like bank statements, Social Security Numbers and tax return. Paper records should be locked in a cabinet or safe while those that are no longer needed should be shredded prior to disposal. In addition to this, digital records should be encrypted and stored on a password-protected hard drive. If possible, purchase programs that digitally shred files before deletion. Alternately, you should learn how to physically destroy old hard drive disks (including removable disks) before disposal.
Never use Public Wi-Fi - Public Wi-Fi is notoriously unsafe and while free Wi-Fi can seem like a wonderful gift, it is a gift better left unaccepted. Know that any time you access information, anyone else using that service can see the information that you are sending. This means they can see the sites you visit, every bit of text you send and your login information for every site you use. While your wireless network at home may be encrypted, public networks provide no such protection. Sometimes, scammers go so far as to set up public Wi-Fi networks for the sole purpose of stealing your information. Therefore if you access sensitive information like medical records using public Wi-Fi, you may not be the only one looking at your information. If you absolutely must login to a public wireless network, make sure that your firewall is on and make sure that you have up-to-date malware protection. If possible access public Wi-Fi only through an encrypted VPN service.
Review Your Medical Records for Accuracy - Many times the people who steal your medical identity, will inadvertently add their own information to your records. Therefore, monitoring your own medical history is a good way to nip thefts in the bud. Make sure that the records provided to you by your doctor accurately describe your medical history. Any entry that looks strange should require you asking your doctor for clarification since this could mean that your records have been compromised. Sometimes an errant entry could just be a mistake. However sometimes it could tip you off that someone may be accessing medical services using your identity. At the very least, making sure that your medical information on allergies and blood type is accurate could prevent serious consequences when next you access medical attention.
Medical identity theft is a threat faced by millions of people on a daily basis. Its consequences can be devastating both to you and your family as well. Luckily, however, there are many precautions that we can take to prevent these types of security breaches.