You check your credit and bank statements regularly, don’t give out your Social Security number to anyone, and are scrupulous about avoiding phishing emails and online scams. But have you checked your doctor’s bill lately?

According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, more than 171 million Americans have had their personal records exposed to hackers between January and mid-October this year. And while run-of-the-mill ID theft is a huge hassle to deal with, most ID theft victims shelled out just $55 in 2015 to deal with the problem. On the other hand, medical ID theft victims spent nearly $13,500, including paying off fraudulent medical bills.

The damaging impact of medical identity theft
In 3% of cases, medical ID theft victims lost their jobs, 19% said they lost out on potential jobs, and the vast majority of respondents said they ended up embarrassed by the disclosure of sensitive healthcare information. In some cases, medical ID theft victims found themselves in trouble with the law over charges that they’d illegally procured prescription drugs.

Victims also miss out on medical care or reimbursement by seeing their medical claims denied, losing access to their health insurance, being forced to pay to restore their insurance coverage, or being unable to access their own medical records. That’s in addition to the damage to credit scores and the loss of time and productivity victims experience as they work to straighten out their credit histories and files.

How can you protect yourself?
The first step is to closely watch your medical records, medical bills/ statements, and any communications or notices you get from benefits providers, health plans, doctors, medical labs and other healthcare providers. The three most common ways that medical ID theft victims discovered they’d been ripped-off was from errors on medical bills or collection letters, discovering mistakes in their health records from treatments given to someone else, or mistakes in their health insurer’s explanation of benefits.

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By Brian O’Connor, Experian, October 25, 2017