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Tips to help prevent medical identity theft

(BPT) — Every fall, many people review their employer health care options during “open enrollment.” As you start to focus on your health care decisions, you may also want to consider the safety of information you routinely provide, such as your address, Social Security number and insurance provider. With new private and public health insurance exchanges becoming available, you may face a greater risk for medical identity theft.

Medical identity theft is when someone uses another person’s name and information to get medical service or make false claims. Once information is stolen a thief may see a doctor, get prescription drugs or file claims with an insurance provider. Medical identity theft cost the health care industry $41 billion in 2012, with half of all health care organizations affected by the crime.

The threat isn’t just financial: if another person’s information is mixed with yours, your medical records — and treatments — may be affected.

Medical identity theft is receiving greater attention now as it’s not just health providers who collect this information. The Federal Government is collecting data from seven different departments and will transfer it to the Federal Data Services Hub, providing a new way for agencies to verify eligibility for programs, refunds and tax rebates. This hub is expected to go live Oct. 1, but has some identity theft experts wondering how secure the hub’s data is.

While there is no way you can completely safeguard yourself against identity theft, there are precautions you can take. And, there is help available for people who discover their identity has been compromised.

If you’ve been involved in an identity theft situation you’ll need legal guidance to help you through the process of clearing your name and your accounts. ARAG, a global provider of legal insurance products and services, has a team of Certified Identity Theft Specialists who’ve handled thousands of cases over the past 12 years. ARAG also has guidebooks on how to prevent identity theft, how to recover if you’re a victim of a health care data breach or other form of identity theft, a tracking sheet to help manage the details you’ll need to do to restore your identity and an affidavit to help collect information needed to report identity theft to police and other authorities. To further protect your medical information, follow these tips:

1. Be careful about sharing your health plan identification for health services that are supposed to be “free.”

2. Don’t share information with anyone over the phone or by email unless you initiated the contact and know who you’re dealing with.

3. Keep paper and electronic copies of your medical and health insurance records in a safe place. Shred outdated health insurance forms, prescription and physician statements, and the labels from prescription bottles before you throw them out.

4. If you’re asked to provide personal information on a website find out why it’s needed, how it will be kept safe, whether it will be shared and with whom.

5. If you decide to share your information online, look for a lock icon on the browser’s status bar or a URL that begins “https:” the “s” is for secure.

The bottom line is that you need to be aware of how prevalent identity theft is, and that anyone could be a victim. And if you receive a note from your health care provider that a security breach has occurred, know that there is help available to resolve your situation and clear your name.

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