It can be shocking when an individual is contacted by a debt recovery service
attempting to secure a missing payment for medical service they never received. Yet medical identity theft is becoming more common. Criminals facing hard economic times are stealing personal information, including medical and insurance data, in order to gain access to healthcare.
Research from the Ponemon Institute found that in 2011, nearly 1.5 million Americans were affected by medical identity thieves, representing an increase of nearly 10,000 victims from 2010. The Second Annual Survey on Medical Identity Theft also found that the estimated charges per victim averaged $20,663. These crimes collectively affected the American economy by $30.9 billion in 2011. Denver's CBS affiliate KCNC-TV reported University of Northern Colorado's College of Education professor Dr Lisa Rue found out her identity had been stolen when trying to refinance her home. Rue had 24 overdue notices from various medical centers across the United States, the source said. After investigation, Linda Garvin was identified as the probable perpetrator by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. Garvin allegedly used 12 names and birthdates, as well as six different Social Security numbers to receive medical care, charging the services to different people, according to KCNC-TV. The Ponemon study found that 46 percent of victims discover their personal information was used by a thief to procure medical help when they start receiving collection notices. Thirty percent of those affected realized the crime after noticing mistakes in their health records, while 16 percent investigated the situation after their credit score plummeted. Many believe that their medical records are protected against all crimes because of HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. While this law does protect consumers in certain situations, Diabetes Health reported there is a gray area when it comes to medical identity theft. According to the news source, if a criminal's actions change the information on a person's medical records, those documents then become the perpetrator's files, which, according to the law, are protected. This could result in a denial of health records to the innocent person. When victims approach credit bureaus or insurance companies about fraudulent charges stemming from medical care, there are tips administrators can give the consumers. KCNC-TV reported individuals affected should go to the offices of each of their doctors and request all old medical files, because when a stranger uses the victim's medical accounts, vital information, including blood type, allergies and treatment histories can be changed.