Medical Identity Theft

August 22, 2014 | Health System Risk Management


A 2013 survey on medical identity theft by the Ponemon Institute, which conducts independent research on privacy, data protection, and information security policy, reveals that it is a large and growing problem. According to the survey, an estimated 1.84 million adult Americans or their close family members were victims of medical identity theft in 2013 alone. This represents a 19% increase from the previous year and, at 43% of the total, an increasing proportion of all identity theft incidents (see Figure 1. Year-to-Year Increase in Victims of Medical Identity Theft). (Ollove; Ponemon Institute)

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Figure 1. Year-to-Year Increase in Victims of Medical Identity Theft(/components/HRC/PublishingImages/MS14339. JPG)

And because medical identity theft often goes unreported, the problem may be even more prevalent. Only 43% of surveyed medical identity theft victims notified law enforcement or legal authorities. Victims' rationales varied from thinking that the police would be of no help to embarrassment to unwillingness to report a thief known to them. (Ponemon Institute) Medical identity theft is also associated with geographic trends. According to U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) data, which is consumer-reported (and, as above, acknowledged to be less than definitive), although medical identity theft occurs nationwide, there has been a predominance of reported incidents in Florida, California, New York, Arizona, and Texas, thought to be associated with a higher percentage of the aging population (and, therefore, Medicare claims) in these areas (World Privacy Forum "Medical").

The Ponemon Institute study identified several factors that contribute to the wide scope of potential damage associated with medical identity theft. First, individuals are slow to fully understand the seriousness and potential dangers of the crime. For example, even though they had already experienced medical identity theft, only half of victims surveyed had subsequently taken steps to protect themselves from future problems. Second, less than half of the individuals surveyed checked their medical records for accuracy. (Ponemon...

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