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Medical identity theft: Why you should worry
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Medical identity theft: Why you should worry

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Medical identity theft is a growing problem amid data breaches hitting companies such as health insurance giant Anthem.

“Medical identity theft carries financial implications similar to other types of identity theft, which can ruin your credit, but it has even more devastating consequences,” says Eva Velasquez, president and CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center in San Diego.

“If someone uses your health insurance to get services, you can end up getting improper care because the thief’s medical information becomes mixed with yours,” she explains. “If the thief uses your insurance to get access to prescription drugs, you can end up with a flag in the system that could trigger regulators or even law enforcement to track you down.”

Becky Frost, consumer education manager for Experian’s Protect My ID program, said medical identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information — such as your name, Social Security number or health insurance ID — to get medical care, submit claims or buy drugs or such expensive medical equipment as electronic wheelchairs.

A survey sponsored by the Medical Identity Fraud Alliance in Washington, D.C., found that medical identity theft victimized approximately 1.84 million Americans in 2013, 19 percent more than in 2012 and cost an average cost of $22,000 per victim.

Medical identity thieves often are insiders working at health care facilities, Frost said, and they try to profit from the information they steal.

But most of the time, the culprit is someone close to the victim.

In the survey sponsored by the Medical Identity Fraud Alliance, nearly 6 in 10 people whose medical identities had been stolen said they either knowingly shared their insurance information with someone they knew, or a family member took their insurance information without their consent.

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