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May 1, 07

NEWS / A New Threat In The Identity Theft War. Stealing Medical IDs A Growing Concern

A new threat on the identity theft front is emerging, and the average consumer knows little, if anything, about it.

Medical ID theft — in which a suspect steals someone’s health information and then uses it to receive costly surgery or treatments or to bill for procedures never performed — affects at least 250,000 people a year, yet it’s the least studied and most difficult type of identity theft to fix, said Pam Dixon, executive director of the San Diego, California-based World Privacy Forum.

Adding to the confusion, an initiative to digitize medical records has inspired new fears that a nationwide network of consumer health data will encourage more theft and make it even more difficult for victims to correct mistakes, she said.

Privacy experts are considering several solutions to fix this growing problem, including using Notaries.

Though few medical records are notarized, “I think it’s worth thinking about whether notarization could help any piece of the process,” Dixon said.

In the first of a series of reports on the issue, Dixon said false information in health files can lead to many negative consequences. A victim may receive incorrect treatment, such as the wrong type of blood in a transfusion, and when mistakes are discovered, patients may be denied access to their files because they can’t prove their identity.

Several case studies in the report illustrate the serious nature of these crimes. A Colorado man whose Social Security number, name and address were stolen found out he was the victim of theft after a bill collector demanded he pay $44,000 for a surgery he never had. He’s still trying to clear his name.

A Pennsylvania man discovered that an impostor used his identity at five different hospitals to receive more than $100,000 in care, and a theft victim from Florida sought treatment and discovered someone had caused false entries in her files, including changes to her blood type.

Medical ID theft remains fairly marginalized, despite the fact that people across the nation from a variety of backgrounds are being affected, Dixon said.

And they have little recourse.

Legislation protecting victims of other types of theft do not cover victims of medical ID theft, and no new legislation to fix the problem is on the horizon, she said. Consumers have a right to receive annually one free copy of their credit reports from the three major bureaus; however, they have no legal right to receive their medical files.

Incorrect medical data may be bounced around from system to system, with the victim having no idea where false information is stored.

“Bottom line: victims are left holding the bag no matter what,” Dixon said. “It’s almost impossible to get the medical files corrected and there’s no legal right to get them corrected.”

As the health care industry evolves, more and more records are going digital. A U.S. Department of Health and Human Services initiative to create a national network of electronic records has spurred new concerns.

The network, when complete, likely will entail an electronic database that health systems across the nation will use.

Dixon said she will be studying ways to make the proposed federal network safer once the government reveals its plans.

“A good criminal can forge an identity, but it would be very difficult to forge an electronic signature,” noted Dixon. “This solution has real potential.”
By Kelly Rush
Notary Bulletin — April 2007

Tags: notary,


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