Identity Theft: Who’s Got Your Number?
In the wake of the massive data breach at retail giant Target, nurses likely
will find patients expressing concerns about identity theft and the safety
of their healthcare information.
The threat is real. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), 5%
of identity theft victims report medical fraud.
In response, FTC in 2010
enacted the Red Flag Rule. Essentially, any doctor’s office, hospital or other healthcare
facility that regularly bills patients for the balance of fees not covered by
insurance and/or allows patients to set up payment plans is either a creditor
or a provider of a “covered account.” Hence,
healthcare providers must be aware of what Red Flags of identity theft to watch for, according to an article in Modern
Magazine by FTC attorney Steven Toporoff. They include:
Suspicious documents: Obvious
forgeries or alterations, such as a photo or physical description listed on an
ID card that does not look like the patient presenting it.
Suspicious activity: Mail sent
to a patient’s address is repeatedly returned as undeliverable, yet they continue to make
all their appointments. Or, a medical history provided by a patient that is inconsistent with other
Suspicious identifiers: A birth date or Social Security number given
by a patient that does not match what the insurer has on file.
In addition to the steps healthcare providers take to protect patients from
medical fraud by identity theft, there are several steps all individuals should
take to protect their personal information, says identity theft expert, Scott A.
Merritt. The insurance and realty executive became an expert on the subject after being arrested
for a felony committed by someone else whom had stolen his identity.
“You can greatly reduce being a victim of such recent hacks that
occurred at the major retailers by using cash more often,” he says. “But if
you’re going to use credit, use a card from a national bank or a national credit
union, and never [use] a debit card — no exceptions.”
Merritt, author of the new book “Identity Theft Dos and Don’ts” offers
seven ways to guard your information:
1. Understand how and where ID
theft happens. Most thefts occur in places where you do business every
day. A place of business is robbed, a bad employee acts improperly or a hacker
breaches the office through the computer.
2. Secure your wallet’s
information. Photocopy everything in your wallet: photos, credit cards
(front and back), membership cards – everything. Put the copies in the order
the cards are arranged in your wallet, staple the pictures and place them in a
strong box or safe.
3. Make sure your information is
consistent. For all of your identity and financial documents, make
absolutely sure, to the smallest detail, that all of your personal information
is accurate and consistent! Discrepancies such as using your middle initial on
some documents but not others, or having different addresses, can wreak havoc
in proving your identity and can even compromise your credit score.
4. Secure your digital habits and
data. Change your passwords at least twice a year on a non-scheduled
basis, i.e., don’t be predictable. Have a strong firewall if you shop online
and only access sites that are also protected by a strong firewall with high
industry standards. Access accounts of a financial nature only from your
5. Protect your banking information. While
in the bank, keep account numbers and other data out of sight, and avoid saying
account numbers, Social Security numbers or other information out loud. When
planning a bank visit, prepare deposits and withdrawal slips in advance.
6. Account for your interactions
with vendors. Every time you speak to someone with whom you do
business, write down the time, date, name and the purpose or outcome of the
call, including any animosity or reluctance from the vendor.
7. Don’t carry around your birth
certificate or Social Security card. Unless it’s necessary, keep those
vital items in a safe or at least a firebox. If you’ll need to provide a copy
of your tax returns or your driver’s license to anyone for any reason make the
copies ahead of time to avoid having your information inadvertently left
sitting on an office copier.
While all are important means of protecting your identity they’re certainly
not the only ways of doing so, of course. How about you? What steps do you take to prevent identity theft?