What do you do with your empty prescription bottles? What about all of the medical information you receive, such as your explanation of benefits? Being careless with your personal medical information can be dangerous, and the theft of this priceless data can be deadly.
Approximately 1.5 million Americans are victims of medical identity theft each year, a crime that costs the nation $41.3 billion annually. Prescription fraud is a growing form of medical identity theft that is not only extremely costly and time-consuming; it can also put your health at risk and even be life-threatening. Unfortunately, medical identity theft isn’t commonly known by many Americans, and often isn’t detected until it’s too late. When we don’t take precautions to prevent prescription fraud and other forms of medical identity theft, we put ourselves in jeopardy of becoming another victim.
What is Prescription Fraud?
Prescription fraud occurs when identity thieves use your personal information to fill prescriptions in your name. They use your medical identity to receive medical treatment at hospitals and doctors’ offices, obtain medications, and access other healthcare services.
Prescription fraud doesn’t just leave you with a huge bill-it can potentially put your health at risk as well. You may find that false information has been added to your personal health record, such as a change in blood type or supposed allergies. Every medical procedure received and prescription filled by the identity thief becomes part of your medical history, which means you may not be able to obtain the life-saving treatment you need in an emergency medical situation.
Detecting and resolving medical identity theft can be difficult as well. You may not discover that you’re a victim until a pharmacy refuses to fill a prescription because it conflicts with another medication you appear to be taking. To make matters worse, fixing errors in your record can be very challenging due to medical privacy laws. Ironically, the same laws that were implemented to protect your privacy and health information are now protecting the medical identity thief. This restricted access to medical records prolongs the duration of the theft, costing you countless time, money, and frustration.
How to Prevent Prescription Fraud
One of the easiest ways to avoid this type of medical identity theft is simply to be aware of what you throw in the trash. Prescription medication labels carry such sensitive information as your full name and address, the prescribing physician, the type of medication, prescription number, and the pharmacy’s contact information-all of the things a thief needs to perform prescription fraud. Instead of throwing empty prescription bottles in the trash, including the drug information forms, remove the labels and shred them. Other ways to prevent prescription fraud:
• Review every explanation of benefits (EOB). Examine the charges for medical visits or prescriptions you didn’t receive, and report any suspicious activity immediately.
• Never simply toss medical information in the trash. Dumpster divers can easily access your personal information if you fail to shred the documents.
• Secure medical records. Keep your medical records in a safe place inside your home or in a safe deposit box, away from the prying eyes of visitors. Believe it or not, friends and relatives who have easy access to your personal information are often the culprits.
• Safeguard prescription bottles. Hide or lock-up your medication rather than leaving it in plain sight or in a medicine cabinet. This will prevent anyone from walking off with your prescription medication and, later, your identity.
• Manage written prescription slips. Don’t throw them away or leave them out where they can be stolen. These slips are all an identity thief needs to fill a prescription in your name, leave you without your medication, steal your medical identity, and even put your life in danger.
• Enlist the help of an identity theft protection service such as ID Theft Solutions, which can proactively help prevent medical identity theft and even restore your identity when it’s stolen.
Protecting your identity is an ongoing process that takes vigilance. By taking some common sense precautions, you can avoid the exorbitant costs and health risks of medical identity theft.
Get more tips for preventing prescription fraud and other types of medical identity theft by visiting The Identity Advocate at http://www.TheIdentityAdvocate.com or calling 310.831.4400.
Linda Vincent, R.N., P.I., is an identity theft, medical identity theft, and healthcare fraud prevention expert specializing in medical consulting and investigations. She is the president of The Identity Advocate, which teaches corporations, professional practices, and consumers how to stop identity theft, medical identity theft, and healthcare fraud.