- Criminals and scammers are always looking for a new way to get ahead
- In 2010, your medical records and computer may be two new areas for them hit your wallet
- There are things you can do to protect yourself from these new threats
New laws and technology bring opportunities, like more health care coverage for more of us and faster computers to help us work better. They also bring opportunities for scammers and criminals, and that's what you may face in 2010 and later.
As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, or the "Stimulus Bill," billions of dollars were set aside for a project to make all of our medical records electronic. Meaning, our records will stored, updated, and transferred from doctor to doctor electronically through computers and other digital devices.
The goal is to have all medical records in electronic form by 2014, and the work is underway right now in 2010.
The problem is, while electronic records may, as predicted, cut red tape, lower the need to repeat expensive medical tests and save lives by cutting down on medical errors, there are concerns over privacy and security. Who will be able to access your records once they're housed in a national computer network? There are some valid security concerns.
Theft of medical records, or "medical identity theft," is when someone, without you knowing it and without your permission, uses your personal information - like your name, social security number, or insurance policy number - to pay for medical treatment, get prescription drugs, or submit false insurance claims.
What You Can Do
It's not a new phenomenon; it's been happening at least since 2006. But with electronic records on the horizon, now is a good time to know what to look for, how to prevent it, and what to do if you become a victim:
- Protect your personal information. Don't give anyone you don't know and trust your social security number, insurance information, Medicare number, or other personal information. There are all kinds of scams out there, like one where people are contacted by telephone or email and asked to give this information as part of a "health survey" or offers for "free medical supplies"
- Read the explanation of benefits (EOB) forms you get from your insurance company after you visit the doctor. Check to make sure the name of the doctor, the treatment you received, and the date you got the treatment are all accurate. The same goes for any bills you receive from your doctor, but also check to see if you're being billed more than once for the same thing. If you see errors, contact the doctor's office and your insurance company immediately
- Check your credit report at least once a year. Look for unpaid credit card charges for medical services or equipment you didn't ask for or receive. If you see such an error, contact the credit reporting agencies and dispute the charges
- If you think you've been the victim of medical identity theft, immediately file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
Have you ever heard of "scareware?" If you haven't, you've probably seen it. It usually starts with a "pop up" message on your computer screen warning you about a "malicious" or harmful detected on your computer. Then, you're asked to run a "free security scan" to fix the problem. Often, users are prompted to buy special anti-virus software or program to "clean" the computer and keep it safe.