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article imageMedical identity theft: a growing problem in the United States

By Nikki Weingartner     Jun 15, 2009 in Health
Identity theft is becoming quite a common topic these days, with news reports following trends and victim stories becoming more common. A fast growing problem known as Medical Identity Theft is beginning to surface, leaving vulnerable individuals shocked.
As reported time and again, patients seeking medical treatment are typically plagued with financial woes in connection with their condition. The vulnerability associated with health issues only serves to exacerbate the problems, as a certain level of blind trust in the healthcare system as a whole is required.
However, it seems that criminal minds have monopolized on that vulnerability and are cashing in.
Medical Identity Theft is a new and growing subset of the more commonly reported problem as patient information such as insurance and social security numbers are being used by criminals to receive care. As reported in the New York Times, the culprit may not be a stranger but more commonly found to be insiders at hospitals or labs.
A story about a relatively healthy man who uncovered tens of thousands of dollars of healthy claims explained how vulnerable Americans can be:
he found he had several collection notices under his name for emergency room visits throughout the country.
“There was even a $19,000 bill for a Life Flight air ambulance service in some remote location I’d never heard of,” said Mr. Sharp, who made this unhappy discovery in 2003. “I had emergency room bills from places like Bowling Green, Kan., where I’ve never even visited. I’m still cleaning up the mess.”
In 2007, a report revealed that a quarter of a million Americans a year were victims of Medical Identity Theft. That number is expected to have climbed over the past two years. (see here for pdf report on Medical Identity Theft).
Stories about individuals stealing credit cards for medical procedures such as plastic surgery are also being reported. Earlier this year, a 30-year-old woman known as the "boob-job bandit" turned herself into police after stealing another woman's identity and establishing a line of credit at a local plastic surgery center and spending $12,000 US for a new set of implants.
The sad thing is that most individuals never know they are victims until they receive an unpaid bill or alert on their credit report of the unpaid medical expense. One woman in Salt Lake City, Utah had no idea that her information had been used until CPS showed up at her door to take custody of her children. The reason? Her information had been stolen and a pregnant drug addicted woman used it to give birth and then abandoned her baby. Unfortunately, the information on file was for the victim.
In light of the rising problem that can be difficult to detect and can wreak financial havoc on yourself and your family, some local credit card companies put out tips on how to prevent the devastating form of theft.
Although it accounts for only 3 per cent of identity theft cases, it is believed to be much more harmful in that the stolen information has a higher street value and many victims are already in a vulnerable state.
The next time a doctor's visit is in order, guarding that information and questioning policies may not be such a bad idea if you want to help prevent liposuction charges for your infant child ending up on your credit report.
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