(WFLX) - Identity theft is likely the last thing on your mind during a hospital emergency. When you're worried about yourself or a loved one, thieves are plotting how to rob you, and this crime could end up costing you more than your identity.
It's not unusual for a hospital to be a hotbed of activity. At the center of it all are people like you in need of medical help. With you, comes all of your financial and medical information.
"The complication with medical identity theft is it can often alter your personal medical record."
It's estimated that a quarter of a million Americans have been medical ID theft victims, but it's a crime that hasn't garnered much attention. By definition, medical identity theft is when someone uses your name or other info like a social security number or health insurance numbers to get health care services for themselves or to make false claims for medical treatment.
"A false impersonator could be receiving medical or pharmaceutical attention for a condition and trying to bill it bogusly to you. That appears on your medical records as a pharmaceutical record."
And that could pose a threat to your medical care. If a doctor believes everything on your record relates to you and it actually doesn't, it could impact your treatment.
Bill Palleo with AARP says you have to protect yourself. When you receive your medical summary statement or explanation of benefits, read it.
"They just, you know, get it, and if there's no out of pocket money involved, they ignore it. But you should be looking at that. Make sure everything on there are services you've received, products you've ordered."
Some other tips for avoiding medical identity theft: Request copies of your medical files from each of your healthcare providers. There could be a fee. Protect your health insurance card just like you would a credit card. Review your credit report twice a year because at the end of the day, the crooks are after your money.
"I think the most likely thing that an individual wants to get at is your money. And if they can get it through your health insurance, they're going for it."