Q & A on Protect yourself from Medical ID theft 12/15/15

Intro: We have all hear about the very real threat of identity theft leading to the loss of money, assets and a bit of your life. However, there is another kind of identity theft-Medical Identity theft. This goes beyond finances to your health, and it's up 20% this year.

Q: Please describe what happens with medical Identity theft.

A: In this kind of theft, the crooks use your health insurance and personal information to get medical treatments or prescriptions. And, unlike credit care fraud, there is no protection for incorrect billing. The victim has to pay for the charges. According to AARP, in 2013, 36% of victims had costs averaging $18,660. Many lose their health insurance coverage or have to pay much higher premiums.

Q: That is terrible. It's very costly for people. Is this theft that lucrative that it's worth it?

A: Yes, Credit card and personal information is worth about $25 on the black market. But stolen health insurance and medical records sell for $2000. The cost is higher because the potential return, like a $60,000 surgery, is worth it.

Q: How can we protect ourselves from this kind of theft?

A: You can't prevent a hacker from getting into a health insurance company's data base or employee theft. But there are things you can do.

First, keep your health insurance care, medic are card and social security information secure. Like you guard your PIN number when using an ATM or your credit card information when making a purchase, you need to make sure no one is able to access your secure health information. (graphic for these two points)

Make sure only those who need to copy or write down your policy numbers and other important information. HIPAA rules prevent medical personnel from sharing your information, be sure you don't sure it by mistake. In fact, you may not want to carry your actual cards.

Q: Great advice. Do you have any other tips?

A: I sure do. Here is a list of some of the other safeguards:

1. Read all those letters and "explanation of benefits" forms you get. If anything looks out of the ordinary or you don't recognize anything, call and report it.

2. Once a year ask your Medical insurance providers for a listing of all the benefits paid our on your behalf. Make sure everything looks right. A good time to remember to do this is just before tax time, since you might need those records for your income tax filing.

3. Annually you can obtain your credit reports online. Just as you should review them for any unfamiliar financial transactions, look for medical transactions. If anything looks wrong, contact the three credit firms, Experian, TransUnion and Equifax.

4. Ask your physician for paper copies of your records so you have them. Or, now with the online accounts many hospital and health plans offer, make an account and watch your transactions.

Close: Everyone understands the seriousness of financial ID theft. Yet many people don't realize that a loss of their medical records might be even more costly. It can happen to anyone--don't let it happen to you.