Identity Theft

How to Protect Yourself from Fraud at the Hospital

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Of all the places where people want to feel secure and protected, hospitals must certainly rank at the top. But even those who aren’t afraid of being poked and prodded have something to worry about: hospitals are a growing scene for identity theft and fraud.

The fraud that’s happening in hospitals isn’t simple, either. In some cases, hospital workers have collected and sold patients’ personal information, while in other cases, people have used stolen identities to obtain medical care and benefits. In either case, patients and their families and friends who might be providing extra help need to be vigilant.

• Guard Social Security and Medicare numbers. These are the keys that criminals need for medical identity theft and fraud. Only give out the numbers when absolutely necessary – and feel free to ask why someone is requesting the number or ask to speak to a supervisor or manager.

• Watch out for scammers. As ever, thieves will try to prey on trusting victims with schemes that look and sound either authentic or too good to be true. Scammers often approach victims in parking lots, or contact them by phone, purporting to be conducting a medical survey. If they ask for a Medicare (or Social Security) number, either walk away or hang up. Some scammers offer free medical equipment to those who provide them with a Medicare number, but it’s not necessary to provide that information to get free equipment or products.

• Review bills, explanations of benefits and other related documents carefully. Examine all mailings related to hospital care with an eye for detail. Ensure that the dates, services and equipment all make sense in the context of the care you received. If anything looks inaccurate, contact your insurer, Medicare or the hospital immediately to clarify – it could be due to a simple error, but it’s worth checking.

• Reviewing your credit reports regularly can be one way to spot medical identity theft — for instance, if a medical bill for services fraudulently procured in your name (and unbeknownst to you) has gone to collections.  And if your credit report is afflicted with collection accounts, it will (unfortunately) be reflected in your credit score, so unexplained drops in your credit score could tip you off to a big problem.  You can monitor your credit reports for free from each of the three major credit reporting agencies once per year, and check your score once per month for free using Credit.com’s Credit Report Card.

No one looks forward to being in the hospital, but the experience can be much worse if a visit leads to identity theft. Taking an aggressive approach to identity monitoring is the best protection against this growing identity theft trend.

Image: iStockphoto

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