The country's fastest growing crime -- identity theft -- is sporting a relatively new mask.
Medical ID theft is a lesser-known form of the offense. "It's an old problem that people are becoming more aware of," says Byron Hollis, national antifraud director of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.
In fact, there have been close to 20,000 claims over the past 15 years, according to the Federal Trade Commission. However, unlike traditional ID theft, medical ID theft carries potentially more serious implications, jeopardizing not only your finances but your health, too.
Medical ID theft can occur in a few ways. The most likely scenario is when someone steals your insurance card and begins using your medical allowances. "An insurance card is like a Visa card with a million dollar spending limit," says Hollis.
Still another way, he adds, is if medical personnel gain access to your records for a legitimate purpose but then hijack the information. This can be done by an employee of a medical provider, like your dentist or doctor, or a health insurance company.
And it poses a major threat to your health. "If you're a victim ... the
medical history of the thief could become intermingled with your medical history, creating conditions you never had, a blood type that's not yours or allergies you've never had," says Adam Levin, CEO of Credit.com.
More hospitals are establishing programs to prevent medical ID theft. In the meantime, ask your health provider or insurance company for an updated copy of your medical records.
If you suspect you're already a victim, contact the antifraud unit of your insurance company first, to change your insurance ID number to prevent future losses.
Next, contact the police department's white-collar crime unit. After that, get in touch with your medical provider. Occasionally the medical provider may be linked or involved to the crime, says Hollis, so it's best to call them last, after you've identified the perpetrator and are positive the medical provider is not involved.
To view Farnoosh Torabi's video take of today's segment, click here.
Farnoosh Torabi joined TheStreet.com TV in July 2006 as the site's first official video correspondent. Previously, Farnoosh was a business producer and on-air reporter for NY1 News, Time Warner's 24-hour news channel in New York City. Farnoosh is a regular columnist for AM New York and has written for Money, Time, New York Daily News and Newsday. Farnoosh is a graduate of Pennsylvania State University, with a degree in Finance and International Business and holds a M.A. from the Columbia School of Journalism.