As we all know, medical bills can be expensive and stressful. When you're already dealing with health concerns, the safety of your personal information probably isn't at the top of your mind. That is, until you come across a recent statement indicating charges that you didn't approve. Maybe you're noticing insurance claims you don't recognize. If you're in this position, you may have fallen victim to medical identity theft.
Medical identity theft occurs when someone uses your information to steal money, make purchases or get access to drugs or other medical supplies. The perpetrator may steal your personal information, including your Social Security number (SSN) and health insurance member IDs to obtain medical care, prescription drugs and more.
Finding out that your medical information has been stolen can be alarming. A theft involving some of your most personal information can feel like a major violation—but don't despair. There are ways to overcome this and emerge stronger going forward.
Let's explore what medical identity theft is in more detail and steps you can take to protect yourself. In this article, you will learn:
- Ways medical identity theft can occur
- Types of stolen information
- How to prevent medical identity theft
- How medical identity theft can affect your credit score
Ways medical identity theft can occur
It's easy to toss away a prescription bottle or paperwork into the trash and not think about it anymore—we've all done something like this. But these seemingly harmless actions acts can increase your risk of having your information stolen. Someone could find your empty prescription bottle while going through trash or documents like health insurance claims to steal your member ID. They could even use billing statements to steal information around your credit cards to pay for their own medical bills.
The perpetrator could also steal your information online—for example, breaching a healthcare website to steal data. Online activity offers other potential pitfalls as well. Maybe you've clicked on an unsecure link or fallen victim to providing account numbers to a fake site or email.
Types of stolen information
As you can see, there are several ways someone could steal your medical and personal information. Additionally, medical identity theft can occur within various contexts where sensitive information is vulnerable. Let's take a closer look at the different types of fraud below.
If a stranger finds statements, documents or other materials that have sensitive information and steals it, this is known as outsider fraud. An "outsider" has stolen aspects of your identity and intends to use it for any number of reasons—buying prescription drugs, paying off medical debt and more.
Fraud can happen where you may least expect it—within the system itself. It's possible that an individual within the healthcare system—such as a nurse, medical biller or doctor—could use your personal information to commit fraud. They have ample access to sensitive documents, including patients' charts, bills, diagnosis and more. Once obtained, this information can then be used to purchase medications and other medical supplies or treatments without your knowledge.
Friendly fraud occurs when someone you know who already has access to your information uses it for their own personal benefit. This could be a spouse, a friend, family member or someone you trust. According to Seon®, 41%, and 86% of chargebacks, which is when a creditor has a merchant pay back for a disputed or fraudulent charge, are “probable cases of friendly fraud."
How to prevent medical identity theft
To better ensure your safety, let's dive into a few proactive steps you can take to help prevent medical identity theft.
Safeguard your information
Securing your information in a safe place is an effective first step you can take to prevent medical identity theft. You can do this by storing your hard copies and materials in a protected, secure place in your home with limited access, such as a safe.
Track and request new insurance cards
If you carry insurance cards in your wallet, you may want to consider having a tracker associated with your wallet. While these trackers—depending on the brands and capabilities—may cost you some money upfront, it will help to create transparency about where your wallet is should you misplace it.
If you do lose your wallet and insurance cards, you'll want to contact your health insurance provider immediately. Let them know that the card is lost so they can be on the lookout for any potential fraud. You can request for a new card with a new member ID as a protective measure.
Use secure websites
While it may be convenient to store your passwords and sensitive information online, you'll want to stay savvy while browsing the web. Be sure to use secure websites (for example, those that contain "https://") and don't share your personal information with anyone you don't trust. Be sure to keep your health information within your provider's patient portal and use strong passwords to keep your accounts safe from hackers.
Remove prescription labels
If you've ever taken medication from a prescription, you may have noticed that the label contains sensitive information like your name, date of birth and insurance details. Before throwing away empty bottles, be sure to remove these labels so that you're not susceptible to medical identity theft.
Monitor your credit reports
Regularly reviewing your credit reports is a diligent way of preventing future medical identity theft. One way you can do this is by enrolling in Chase Credit Journey® and partaking in credit monitoring services. By keeping a look out for suspicious financial activity, such as medical purchases or bills you don't recognize, you can take action before the consequences of identity theft worsen.
Additionally, you may want to check with your financial institution. Closely analyze your monthly statements as well as your transaction history in both your checking account and credit cards. The same goes for your health insurance—keep track of your medical claims and bills and look out for any that aren't yours or appear suspicious.
Will medical identity theft affect my credit score?
If you've fallen victim to medical identity theft, it's possible that your credit score could suffer. The severity depends on the context, the amount of money spent/stolen and how quickly you find it. If fraud has been occurring quietly over many years, you could see your score drop due to the fact that you're spending more than you realize. You could fall behind on bills or find that it's difficult to make your payments in full and on time. This activity affects your credit score—payment history and credit utilization ratio, for example, are two factors that will be significantly impacted if you fail to make payments or find yourself needing to use more of your credit limit.
This is why it's essential to monitor your credit and to notify your bank, issuer and lender of potential fraud. You may be able to remove errors such as negative remarks from your report, which can also help improve your score after the damage done by medical identity theft.
Thankfully, you can take proactive steps to understand the basics of identity theft and ways you can try to protect yourself and your credit score. For example, when you enroll in Chase Credit Journey, you can opt in for credit and identity monitoring services. Doing so will keep you updated about any suspicious financial activity or if your information was found in a data breach. With Credit Journey, you can take action as soon as you find anything suspicious so you can correct errors and keep your credit score protected.
It's crucial to keep your medical information safe. Paying medical bills can be stressful on its own—you don't want to worry about the potential of someone using your personal medical information and taking advantage of you. The consequences can linger, too, if you don't react quickly to fraudulent activity.
To ensure your safety and the safety of your credit score, monitor your information on a regular basis. Keep your information safe and don't share it. Monitoring your credit and identity online--such as with Chase Credit Journey—is an effective way to catch suspicious or fraudulent activity early on.