Don't let your prescription medicine bottles betray you!
You know you need to shred or destroy documents that contain your personal financial information (right!?), but there may be other items in your trash that reveal more than you realize. For example, prescription medicine bottles often disclose enough personal information to endanger your medical identity. These labels sometimes contain your name, address, telephone number, your doctor's name, the prescription number, and your health insurer information, not to mention the name of the medication. Remove and shred the labels before recycling the bottles. You can make it easier to remove those labels by heating them with a blow dryer for a few seconds or by rubbing essential oil (or WD-40) on the label. You can also use a razor blade to scrape the label off, but be careful not to cut yourself! Ask your pharmacy if they accept old prescription bottles to destroy and recycle.
The Dangers of Medical Identity Theft
Dumpster divers can use your medical information to obtain treatment at hospitals and doctors’ offices and get fraudulent prescriptions for drugs.
And this type of ID theft doesn't just have financial consequences – it could endanger your life. Every medical procedure and prescription obtained by the identity thief can become part of your medical history. Any unauthorized changes to that history puts your health in danger. Your health record may show the wrong blood type, allergies to medicines, or pre-existing conditions about which physicians and pharmacists need to know. Errors in your history may lead to tragic consequences, especially in medical emergencies.
The financial consequences can be devastating as well. Health care providers may bill you for treatments you did not receive, or health insurers may deny your insurance claims. Almost 40% of victims of medical identity theft lose their health insurance as a result of the theft. And life insurance companies may decline to insure you because of someone else's medical history. Medical ID theft costs its victims over $22,000 on average and can take over one to two years to resolve.
How to protect yourself from medical identity theft.
- Check each EOB (explanation of benefits) you get from your health insurer to confirm they are correct.
- Monitor billing statements from healthcare providers.
- Do not share your health insurance card with anyone other than your healthcare providers or pharmacists.
- Do not provide your medical information over the phone unless you verify the entity on the other end.
- Be especially careful when providing this information over the phone when someone claiming to be your doctor or insurer calls you. Always call them back using the phone number from a trusted source.
- Do not send your health insurance information by email unless you know that it secure (which is almost never!).
- Shred your medical documents, EOBs, and prescription records before disposing of them.
- Don't overshare your medical information on social media.
- Get your consumer file from the Medical Information Bureau (MIB). You have a right to a free report each year).
Learn to detect potential medical identity theft early.
You may be have been the victim of medical identity theft if:
- You get a bill for medical services you didn’t receive;
- Debt collectors contact you about medical debt you don’t owe;
- Medical collection notices show up on your credit report;
- Your health insurer notifies you that you have reached your maximum benefit limit;
- You are denied insurance because your medical records show a condition you don’t have.
If you suspect an identity thief has been using your information:
- Get copies of your medical records. Federal law gives you the right to know what’s in your medical files.
- Contact each doctor, clinic, hospital, pharmacy, laboratory, health plan, and location where a thief may have used your information to get more information on how your information may have been compromised.
- Ask each of your health plans and medical providers for a copy of the “accounting of disclosures” for your medical records. You are entitled to one free copy of this accounting each year from each of your medical providers. The accounting will give you details about the medical information the provider sent, when and to whom it was sent, and why they sent the information.
If you find that you have been a victim of medical ID theft.
Act immediately to protect yourself.
First you need to create an Identity Theft Report. This report will make it much easier to repair the damage. To create your Identity Theft Report:
- Report the fraud to the Federal Trade Commission online complaint form. The form automatically creates an “identity theft affidavit” for you. Save and print the affidavit. You will need it for your report. You can’t go back to the form to print it later.
- Take the affidavit to the local police with your photo ID and proof of residence and any proof you have of the the theft. Get a copy of the police report that you can show to creditors or debt collectors.
Next, contact one of the three credit reporting agencies and place a fraud alert on your file. You don’t need to call all three. The agency you contact must notify the others.
Fix the damage that has already been done. This process requires diligence and perseverance. Keep a log of everything that you’ve done, including the names and phone numbers of everyone you talk to in this process.
- Write to your health plan and medical providers to have them correct errors in your records, providing copies of supporting documentation and your Identity Theft Report. Send these letters by certified mail, return receipt requested and get a response within thirty days.
- The Medical Information Bureau also has a process for disputing incorrect information. Dispute Your MIB Consumer File.
- Contact businesses to close any new accounts that were opened in your name without your permission. Make sure the business sends you a letter confirming that the account has been closed, that you are not liable for it, and that it will be removed from your credit report.
- If you have any fraudulent charges on any credit accounts, identify the false charges and have them removed, again, getting written confirmation.
- Review all three of your credit reports, and identify any fraudulent activity. Dispute any questionable transactions or reports. You have to file a dispute with each agency.
- If debt collectors are contacting you, end them a cease and desist letter by certified mail, return receipt requested.
As always, please feel free to contact the experienced consumer law attorneys at Meyer & Bardill, LLC if you have any questions or need legal representation.