By now, most consumers have at least heard of the dangers of identity theft. People may have even heard of the steps that are involved in trying to recover your good credit and your good name. But many people are still unaware of the very real threat posed by medical identity theft, and the harm that it can do to you and your family.

There are two distinct types of medical identity theft, and both involve the use of your personal information. The first kind involves someone accessing your name, Social Security number, and/or medical insurance information, and using that data to have medical procedures done. The second type involves using that same information to apply for government benefits such as disability or worker’s compensation.

In both cases, you run the very real danger of having your medical benefits maxed out or having to defend yourself against fraud charges. There have even been reported cases of medical identity theft in which the authorities were called to remove children from the home after someone used the mother’s
identity and gave birth to a drug-addicted newborn. The circumstances surrounding the ways that medical identity theft can affect you are mind boggling.

In order to defend yourself against this type of theft, be certain that you safeguard your insurance information just as closely as you would protect your ATM card and PIN number. Your insurance card, in the wrong hands, can be sold or used and the consequences can be serious. Be sure to read insurance statements carefully to ensure that you or your family members were actually the patients who received the care, and make certain that your insurance statements aren’t causally tossed in the trash without shredding them first.

If you do find that you’re the victim of medical identity theft, first alert your doctor’s office and request copies of your medical records. These records are yours and you are entitled to see them, regardless of what you may be told on the phone. Next, request and accounting of disclosures from your doctor or hospital, and reach out the billing department of the facility that has sent you the statement. Also be sure to contact your health insurance provider to report all suspicious activity immediately so that the situation can be halted on their end and any fraudulent claims have been reported.

While speaking with health care providers, request a complete physical description from the patient records for those dates. Unless you suddenly and temporarily became fifty pounds heavier and six inches taller, for example, there’s a good chance you can prove you were not the person who received treatment. The dates of service can also help prove you’re not responsible for this payment of care, especially if you can prove where you were at the time of the visits.

It’s important to remember that medical identity theft isn’t just a hassle to be dealt with; it’s a crime. File a police report and send a copy of it—along with copies of any other proof—to the billing department that is requesting payment and to your health insurance provider. Once the medical provider agrees that these charges are fraudulent and that you are not responsible for them, it is vitally important to get that in writing. Keep that document and all other proof of theft in a safe place, just in case these charges—which will appear as unpaid in your account—come calling again.

While the issue is resolved, you might worry that your medical coverage is interrupted or halted pending investigation. Talk to your insurance provider and secure some form of documentation that you and your family are still protected in the event of a medical need.

If you found this information helpful, you may want to consider taking part in the Identity Theft Resource Center’s Anyone3 fundraising campaign.  For more information or to donate please visit