There probably aren’t that many people who count going to the dentist as one of their favorite activities. There’s a new fear coming out of the dentist’s office, and it has to do with identity theft. As the rates of medical identity theft continue to be a major concern for industry watchers, the dentist is certainly not immune from the problem. So what constitutes medical identity theft?

Typically, it occurs when someone uses your identity to obtain medical treatment. It could be anything from a simple office visit to an involved or lengthy treatment plan, although there are connections to patients who commit identity theft in order to gain high-volume prescriptions for controlled substances like narcotic pain medicines. In some cases the perpetrator may not have access to his own health coverage and therefore leaves you holding the bag (or the bill, in this case), but in other instances, identity thieves have done this to avoid criminal charges, such as knowing they would give birth to a baby who tested positive for drugs. Again, your name is now associated with that crime, not theirs.

But dental identity theft is a particularly prevalent problem because even individuals who have health insurance may not have dental insurance. And with the high cost of many procedures—such as the out-of-pocket expense of something like a crown costing as much as $800 or more—and the fact that even many dental plans don’t cover the entire amount or don’t cover all procedures, it’s not hard to believe that criminals might try to find a way around their problems by using your identity.

So how do you know if your identity has been used? There are a couple of warning signs. First, have you already been the victim of an identity theft or major data breach, especially one that involved health insurance or health care providers? Next, have you received bills for treatment or procedures you didn’t get? (This one should be fairly easy to spot, since most people with healthy dental histories may only see the dentist a couple of times a year.) Finally, have you received a bill for dental care provided by someone other than your preferred dentist?

The important thing is how you respond. Don’t just call the number on the bill and explain the error, then forget about it. Remember, if someone has received dental care under your identity, that means the individual has access to your identity! You must follow up on the very likely possibility that he has more of your personal data by monitoring your credit reports, online accounts, and financial statements carefully.

Next, and no one likes to think in these terms, was the dentist’s office too quick or too casual about agreeing to dismiss the fees? Shouldn’t they be surprised to find out they treated a patient who pretended to be you? Yet, that has happened to a number of victims of internal identity theft or dental scams. These occur when the provider or his office staff are the ones submitting false claims to your health insurance provider, often for expensive procedures that never took place.

However the identity theft occurs, remember that a crime has been committed and you are the victim. File a police report immediately in order to ensure that you are not held responsible for other charges that may arise out of this crime, and to ensure that your identity is as protected as possible.

 

Read more about medical identity theft on the ITRC website.

 

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