One in five Americans says that they’ve been a victim of identity theft or attempted identity theft in the past year.

Most of us are familiar by now with the steps to take if your identity has been compromised. The process is a hassle, but it typically takes just a few days and involves minimal financial losses, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

The consequences for one form of identity theft can be much more severe, though. Cases where thieves steal your Social Security number and health insurance info to fraudulently obtain medical services or treatment can be much more difficult to detect or resolve.

Medical ID theft is on the rise, partly because this information is worth far more on the black market than financial identities. “Retail and financial services will let you know in real-time if there’s an unusual charge on your credit card,” says Ann Patterson, senior vice president and program director at the Medical Identity Fraud Alliance. “That doesn’t exist with health care transactions. So if someone checks into a hospital to get surgery, there’s no mechanism to alert you.” Criminals may be able to used stolen medical information for months before anyone notices.

In addition to the financial toll, medical ID theft has other consequences as well. If someone steals your identity and receives medical treatment that gets added to your medical records, doctors may have incorrect information regarding your health history, blood type or allergies, which can lead to misdiagnosis or mistreatment. “This is a financial crime with violent crime consequences because it can affect your physical health,” says Eva Velazquez, president and CEO of the nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center.

Thwarting medical ID thieves entirely is difficult, but it is possible to minimize your risk by taking these steps:

  • Talk to your medical providers about their cybersecurity
  • Decline to give your health care provider your Social Security number
  • Request your medical records every year
  • Be wary of apps
  • Treat your insurance card like a credit card
  • Review your “explanation of benefits” forms
  • Report suspicious activity

Click here to read the full article and learn details about these important prevention steps.

October 31, 2016 By Beth Braverman, Fiscal Times