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Guard Against Medical Identity Theft

Take steps to lower your risk of becoming a victim of the fastest-growing type of ID theft.

Medical identity theft: It's the fastest-growing from of ID theft, with more than 1.4 million victims. Yet, only 15% of insured adults say they're familiar with medical ID theft, according to a survey commissioned by Nationwide Insurance.

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Medical ID thieves either use victims' personal data to get insurance in their names or use victims' current policy to get treatment or prescriptions. If a thief uses your identity to get care, you could get billed for treatment you didn't receive. Your legitimate claims could be denied if a thief maxes out your insurance benefits. Or you could even be denied coverage -- or lose your coverage -- if an ID thief's medical condition appears on your record.

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In fact, nearly half of medical ID theft victims have lost insurance coverage due to fraud, and one-third saw their premiums rise, according to the Coalition Against Fraud. And victims pay about $20,000, on average, and four to six months to resolve their cases, according to Nationwide.

As with any identity theft, there's now way to protect yourself 100%. However, there are steps you can take to minimize the risk Nationwide and the FTC provide the following tips:

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-Carry only the identification you need when you go out (for example, leave your Social Security card at home).

-Don't give out medical information on the phone or through mail unless you initiated the contact because medical ID thieves may pose as employees of insurance companies, doctors’ offices, clinics, pharmacies, and even government agencies to get you to reveal your personal information.

-Ask your health insurer to remove your Social Security number from your health insurance card and issue you another card with a new number.

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-Shred your receipts, insurance forms, and physician statements in a cross-cut shredder. Or keep records in a locked safe.

-Monitor any "Explanation of Benefits" statements sent by your health insurer and look for any discrepancies. Contact your insurer if there are claims that don't match care that you received.

-Ask to see your medical records from each health-care provider periodically and verify that they are correct.

-Check your credit report for medical collection notices you don't recognize.

If you become a victim, take the following steps:

-File a report with the local police and send a copy of the report to your insurer's fraud department.

-Dispute errors in your record with your providers and insurer by writing letters identifying each item you are disputing and requesting that the errors be corrected (they are required to amend inaccurate information). Provide copies of any documentation you may have, send all correspondence by certified mail and ask for a return receipt.

-File a complaint with the FTC at https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov or by phone at 1-877-438-4338.

-File a fraud alert with the credit bureaus and consider initiating a credit freeze. See Head Off ID Theft to learn how.

Get 100 of our top money-saving tips by downloading the new iPad app or purchasing the PDF version.

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