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Study: Consumers Lax On Protecting Against Medical ID Theft

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Medical_Karen_Roe_CCFlickrHow prevalent is medical identity theft? Why are Americans so indifferent toward it (at their peril)? And what can consumers do to protect themselves from medical identity theft?

A recent national study claims to answer these questions. The National Study on Medical Identity Theft by the Poneman Institute, a California based think tank, concludes that medical identity theft is looming larger on the public landscape, yet many Americans seem to be either unaware or unconcerned of the risks associated with the problem.

The study is the Institute’s second annual look at the issue of medical identity theft. In it, researchers say that 1.5 million Americans are victimized by medical identity theft in the US, a number that is up slightly from 2010 numbers.

What should make Americans sit up and take notice is the average cost of a medical identity fraud case—which, according to the Poneman study, stands at an astounding $20,663.

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Despite the whopping average cost of a medical identity breach, and aside from the fact that Poneman’s research shows that Americans want increased medical data privacy, 49% of the study’s respondents have taken “no new steps to protect themselves after a crime,” the Institute reports.

Poneman does draw one intriguing conclusion from the data, and it doesn’t speak well of consumers’ concern about medical identity fraud. The study reports that 50% of medical identity theft victims chose not to report the crime to law enforcement authorities after the crime was committed (a number that rose 4% from 2010). One big reason why: Consumers victimized by the theft didn’t want to “make a big deal” over the incident (43%); and others were too embarrassed to report the crime (37%), partly due to the fact that medical identity crimes within families are all too common.

“Our study shows that the risk and high cost of medical identity theft are not resonating with the public, revealing a serious need for greater education and awareness,” explains Dr. Larry Ponemon, chairman and founder of The Ponemon Institute. “We also feel these results put an even greater onus on healthcare organizations to make the security of sensitive personal health information a priority in order to protect patient privacy.”

[Resource: Identity Theft Emergency]

Unfortunately, if Americans are reluctant, for whatever reason, to report the crime and take new steps to protect themselves after falling victim to the crime, all of the healthcare education efforts on the planet may not have much impact.

When it comes to medical identity theft, the criminals have too much dedication and tenacity, and, it seems, consumers not enough.

Image: Karen Roe, via Flickr.com

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