Medical identity theft is as scary as it gets. With more and more medical records going online, it’s important to learn what you can do to keep your medical information private.

Identity theft is typically associated with financial transactions, however it also happens in the context of medical care, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC says medical identity theft occurs when someone uses another person’s name or insurance information to get medical treatment, or when dishonest healthcare workers use another person’s information to submit false bills to insurance companies.

According to the FTC, medical identity theft can impact not only patients, but also healthcare providers and health plans.

How do I know if I’m the victim of medical identity theft?The FTC says victims may:

  • Get a bill for medical services they didn’t receive
  • Be contacted by a debt collector about medical debt they don’t owe
  • See medical collection notices on their credit report that they don’t recognize
  • Find erroneous listings of office visits or treatments on their explanation of benefits (EOB)
  • Be told by their health plan that they’ve reached their limit on benefits
  • Be denied insurance because their medical records show a condition they don’t have

What do I do next?

  • Get copies of your medical records
  • Get an accounting of disclosures
  • Ask for corrections

More important tips from the FTC on protecting your medical information:

  • Be wary if someone offers you “free” health services or products, but requires you to provide your health plan ID number. Medical identity thieves may pretend to work for an insurance company, doctors’ offices, clinic, or pharmacy to try to trick you into revealing sensitive information.
  • Don’t share medical or insurance information by phone or email unless you initiated the contact and know who you’re dealing with.
  • Keep paper and electronic copies of your medical and health insurance records in a safe place. Shred outdated health insurance forms, prescription and physician statements, and the labels from prescription bottles before you throw them out.
  • Before you provide sensitive personal information to a website that asks for your Social Security number, insurance account numbers, or details about your health, find out why it’s needed, how it will be kept safe, whether it will be shared, and with whom. Read the Privacy Policy on the website.
  • If you decide to share your information online, look for a lock icon on the browser’s status bar or a URL that begins “https:” the “s” is for secure.

Visit the FTC’s Medical Identity Theft online pamphlet for more information on protecting your medical data.