Identity theft at doctor's offices, hospitals and other medical providers is booming. But there is a way to protect yourself…
It's the fastest-growing crime!
The Identity Theft Resource Center reports almost half of all identity theft now is happening at medical providers like the ones just mentioned.
There are many reasons why medical identity theft is running rampant. High turnover in the back offices and too much paperwork floating around are chief among them. The scary reality is that one errant employee can steal the identities of hundreds if not thousands of people. Without question, this is the fastest growing area of identity theft.
So what can you do? Is this just another problem without a solution? No way.
Here's my advice: Don't fill in your Social Security number on any medical paperwork when you first go to a doctor. The only reason they want your Social Security is so if you don't pay, it's easier to turn you over to a collection agency.
This is such an Achilles' heel for identity theft. Don't fill that number in. You won't have ironclad protection, but it's a good start.
Going forward, Medicare cards will not have your Social Security number on them
In April 2015, the federal government announced that Medicare beneficiaries would receive new cards that do not display their Social Security number. And after years of warnings about the risks facing older Americans -- who are advised to carry their Medicare card everywhere with them in case of an emergency -- the change was a big win in the fight against identity theft.
But it may take a while before these protections are implemented.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), "The bill gives HHS four years to issue modernized cards to new beneficiaries, and four more years to issue the new cards to existing beneficiaries."
Congress provided $320 million -- over the course of four years -- to cover the changes, with the money coming from Medicare trust funds that are funded by payroll and other taxes, as well as beneficiary premiums.
Unfortunately, Medicare beneficiaries will continue to be at risk until the changes are rolled out.
More ways to stay safe
Here are some additional tips to keep you out of harm's way:
- Use a shredder for papers that contain financial info before recycling. I've had many listeners suggests you should mix up your shredded financial papers with a dirty diaper if you have young kids. That will definitely deter an identity thief any day of the week!
- Use OptOutPreScreen.com to remove your name from the mailing list of the credit card companies. That way you won't get the credit card apps that are so central for identity thieves. You will have to disclose your Social Security number because that's how the credit bureaus build a dossier on you.
- Finally, freeze your credit if you're really concerned about limiting any damage from possible identity theft.