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Protect yourself against medical ID theft

June 13, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Identity theft is the fastest-growing crime in America, costing consumers billions of dollars a year. But even worse is medical identity theft because it can possibly cost victims their lives.

Westminster resident Vicki Blair has two college degrees, a professional certification and was a systems analyst for a major aerospace firm for 10 years. But then suddenly, she had trouble finding a job.

"I had interviews, I had no offers. I couldn't figure it out," she said.

One day Blair did figure it out. She was a victim of medical identity theft. Another woman was using Blair's name and other personal information to get medical care. Now Blair's medical records are a disaster.

"I am an alcoholic, and according to them, I am a drug addict," Blair said.

According to a recent survey sponsored by credit reporting service Experian, Blair was just one of about 1.5 million victims of identity theft in the U.S., with California topping the list.

"That's a significant number of people," said Jennifer Leuer, general manager of Experian's I.D. protection service protectmyid.com. "At a $21,000 average cost per identity theft, that's a huge problem."

Author and I.D. theft expert Mari Frank said it's nearly impossible for victims to clear their names.

"They're worried about maybe getting sued for medical malpractice, so they don't want to remove or delete this information, so it stays on this electronic record," Frank said.

It's not only about the loss of money, a job and a reputation. Medical identity theft could have deadly consequences.

"People don't realize that if someone steals your identity, your blood type may be very different from their blood type and if you are in an accident and they give you blood that is not the same blood type as yours, it could be a death knell for you," Frank said.

Leuer advises people to guard their health insurance cards the same way they would guard their credit cards, shred all documents containing personal information and review personal health care records for mistakes or unusual entries periodically.

"You want to check your credit report regularly to make sure that there's either no collection or derogatory information or new loans that are out there for medical treatment," Leuer said.

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