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Protect yourself from medical identity theft

An impostor who steals your medical information and uses your identity to get healthcare could pose more than one type of problem. Here are some precautions and strategies.

November 04, 2012|By Scott J. Wilson, Los Angeles Times
  • Be concerned if you get bills for medical services you never received or if you unexpectedly reach a limit on insurance benefits.
Be concerned if you get bills for medical services you never received or… (Joe Raedle, Getty Images )

An identity thief who gains access to your credit card or bank account could harm you financially, but one who steals your medical information could also endanger your health. Here are key things to know about medical identity theft:

• When an impostor uses your identity to get hospital care, order prescription drugs or submit fraudulent insurance claims, false information may end up in your medical record. This could be "a different blood type, an inaccurate history of drug or alcohol abuse, test results that aren't yours, or a diagnosis of an illness, allergy or condition you don't have," the Federal Trade Commission warned.

• Be wary of callers asking for medical information. "Medical identity thieves may pose as employees of insurance companies, doctors' offices, clinics, pharmacies and even government agencies to get people to reveal their personal information," the FTC said. Don't automatically trust groups or people who offer free medical services in exchange for your health plan ID. Shred healthcare documents you no longer need.

• Be concerned if you get bills for medical services you never received or if you unexpectedly reach a limit on insurance benefits. Another red flag: being denied for an insurance policy due to a condition you don't have. Check your credit report for medical debts you don't recognize, and visit http://www.mib.com, run by a group of insurance companies, to see if anyone has applied for life or health insurance using your name.

• To check for identity theft, contact your insurer and healthcare providers and ask to see your medical records, a right you have under federal law. When you do, it's best not to say you suspect identity theft because some providers may then block you, believing they must protect the impostor's privacy (this is a mistaken belief, according to the FTC). They have up to 30 days to comply with your request.

• You are also entitled to ask your insurer and healthcare providers for an accounting of information that has been disclosed from your medical records and to whom it was given. "It will help you follow the trail of your information and identify who has incorrect information about you," the FTC said. You may order one free copy of the accounting every 12 months from each provider.

scott.wilson@latimes.com

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