Protect Yourself Against Identity Theft
HealthSmart! Protect Yourself Against Identity Theft (PDF, 261 KB) »
More than 500,000 Americans each year are robbed, not of their car, electronic gadgets or jewelry, but of their identities. Identity theft, the fastest growing crime in the United States, involves acquiring key pieces of identifying information from someone else to establish credit or obtain health care. This information includes the victim's name, address, date of birth, Social Security number, health insurance plan identification, credit card number and mother's maiden name.
Identity theft facts speak for themselves
- Ten million people are victimized by identity theft each year, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing public awareness of identity theft. That means every minute about 19 people become a new victim of this crime.
- According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, victims spend on average 175 hours and $808 in out-of-pocket expenses to clear their names.
- Law enforcement officials estimate that identity theft results in a loss of several billion dollars each year, including losses to credit card companies, victim costs (including legal assistance), and judicial and law enforcement time.
- Identity theft victimization increased 11 to 20 percent between 2001 and 2002 and 80 percent between 2002 and 2003.
Two major types of identity theft are financial and medical
Financial identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information to commit fraud. Identity thieves may use your information to open a new credit card account, apply for a loan or open a checking account in your name.
Medical identity theft is another way in which your personal information could be compromised.
The most common cases of medical identity theft involve using another person's medical insurance card, either with or without the cardholder's knowledge.
Inaccurate information on your medical record can result in complications such as allergic reactions to previous medications given or incorrect blood- type reporting.
Your health information is protected by law
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996 was created to protect your privacy while receiving health care. Most doctors, nurses, pharmacies, hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, health insurance companies, HMOs and electronic billing services are required to follow HIPAA. Under HIPAA, you are entitled to:
- Request a copy of your medical records to review. In most cases, your copies must be given to you within 30 days. You may have to pay for the cost of copying and mailing the records.
- Have corrections made if false information is found on your medical records.
- Decide whether you want to give your permission before your health information can be used for certain purposes, such as fund raising.
If you think your information may have been compromised, ask your health care provider for an accounting-of-disclosures form. The record will include any instances, other than treatment and payment circumstances, where your health information has been shared. Requests may take up to 30 days to complete.
How your information could be stolen
Identity thieves access your information in a number of ways. They may steal a purse or wallet containing credit or bank cards. Or, your information may be stolen from trash bins or mailboxes containing credit statements, bank statements, pre-approved credit offers or tax information.
Thieves may also acquire information you have on file with businesses by stealing records while employed by the business, breaking into computer records or bribing an employee who has access to the records.
"Phishing" scams are also common among identity thieves. Posing as legitimate companies through e-mail or phone, thieves ask you to "verify" your account information. They then use it for fraudulent purposes.
Signs your identity may have been stolen
It may be weeks or even months before you realize your identity has been stolen. However, the following are common signs that something may be wrong:
- With both medical and financial identity theft cases, you may get bills for merchandise you did not buy or services you did not receive.
- Failing to receive monthly bills. A missing bill could mean a thief took over your account and changed your billing address.
- Being denied credit for no apparent reason.
If you are a victim
- If you believe you were sent a bill for services you did not receive, call and alert the bill's sender. You may be referred to a collection agency if the bill is left unpaid.
- Report the incident to the police, both where you live and where the crime occurred. Ask for a copy of the police report to send to credit reporting agencies and creditors.
- If you feel your identity has been tampered with after going to a specific facility (e.g. bank, hospital, physician's office, department store), contact the organization's security or police department so they can begin an internal investigation.
- Make sure you call and inform your banking institutions. Your loss is limited to $50 if you notify the financial institution within two business days after learning of the loss or theft of your card. Request that the account be processed as "account closed at consumer's request." Ask for replacement cards with new account numbers. Put "stop payment" notices on any outstanding checks from your previous account. Follow up with a letter so there is written proof of your claim.
- Ask for a copy of your free credit report from the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, TransUnion and Experian (see sidebar). The report includes personal identifying information such as your address and Social Security number, your bill-paying history with banks, retail stores and other creditors, tax liens, court judgments, and a history of who requested your records. Ask that your accounts be flagged with a fraud alert and make sure to monitor your report every few months.
- You may want to ask each of the reporting bureaus to put a security freeze on your credit report. The freeze ensures your credit report or credit score will not be shared with potential creditors without your authorization.
- If someone tries to change information in a frozen credit report, the credit bureau will send you a written confirmation of the change within 30 days. However, if you apply for a credit plan or loan, it cannot be granted for 90 days while your account is frozen.
- Alert each of your telephone, cable, Internet, electric, gas and water providers that attempts may be made to open a new service with your identifying information.
- Contact the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-438-4338 or www.consumer.gov/idtheft to file a report and request assistance with restoring your credit.
- Make sure to keep copies of all correspondence. Write down the names of everyone you talk to and the date the conversation occurred. Keep the correspondence records even if you believe the case is closed, in case more problems arise.
How to check your credit report
The three credit bureaus have a central website and phone number from which you can order your report. One free report from each company can be ordered annually. You may order your reports from the three nationwide consumer reporting companies at the same time, or you can order them separately to have a free report every four months.
To order, visit www.annualcreditreport.com or call toll free 1-877-322-8228.
After your first free annual report, it costs approximately $10 to buy an extra report from one of the three companies. To buy a copy of your report, contact:
Equifax: 1-800-685-1111 or www.equifax.com
Experian: 1-888-397-3742 or www.experian.com
Trans Union: 1-800-916-8800 or www.transunion.com
Identity theft prevention
You can't always prevent identity theft, but there are steps you can take to help avoid it. It is important to manage your personal information and be aware of your rights as a consumer. Make sure to carefully guard your:
- Insurance card
- Social Security card
- Credit/debit cards
- Driver's license
- ATM receipts
- Tax forms
- Laptop computers, PDAs and cell phones that may include personal information
- Bills that include a personal identification number
- Payment stubs from your employer
Simple steps to help keep your identity safe
- Ask your employer what security practices are in place for keeping your personal information safe.
- You may have personal information stored on a home or work computer. Make sure your computers and PDAs are password protected and you don't share the password with others.
- A paper shredder can help safeguard against someone using your account number. Make sure you shred all old bank and credit statements as well as pre-approved credit card offers before throwing them away. A crosscut paper shredder works best.
- Mail bill payments from the post office or another safe location, other than your home. They can be stolen from your home mailbox.
- If you are making a purchase online, make sure the Web site is electronically secure. Sites that begin with "https" or have a lock icon indicate that they feature additional encrypting/security.
- Keep a duplicate copy of your credit/debit card numbers and expiration dates, driver's license number, personal check, and Social Security card in a secure place other than your purse or wallet.
- Don't carry personal information in your purse or wallet if it is not needed. For example, if you have more than one credit card, leave the cards you don't need at home.
Preventing medical identity theft
- Always have your driver 's license and health insurance card with you when you visit your doctor or the hospital so you won't need other forms of identification. Expect to be asked for a picture ID whenever you register as a new patient with any health care provider or facility.
- Guard this information and your Social Security number, date of birth, mother's maiden name and past addresses at all times. Once you have signed in at the hospital, send your information home with a family member or friend, or ask a staff member to place it in safekeeping.
- If possible, pay for all copays and deductibles with a personal check.
- Do not bring credit cards with you unless they are necessary to make a payment. If you must pay by credit card, make sure the transaction is run in your presence.
- Always make sure the person you are talking to is wearing a photo ID badge and write down his or her name.
- Be aware of others around you when using or giving personal identification. Do not let anyone else see the information and notice who might overhear your conversation. If you feel at any time during your visit that your information is not secure, share your concerns with your doctor, nurse, office staff member or other health care worker.
- If possible, pre-register from home to avoid bringing additional personal information with you. Make sure you get the name, title and department of the employee taking your information.
UK HealthCare initiatives
Although there is no fool-proof method to prevent identity theft, the University of Kentucky and UK HealthCare have taken precautions to guard against it.
- All available information, including references, is verified on all prospective employees.
- Criminal background checks are performed on all new employees.
- Employees undergo a strict training program to conform to patient privacy standards.
- All computers containing patient information can only be accessed via password. Each maintains a log showing who has accessed the data.
- UK HealthCare has reduced the use of Social Security numbers on employee and patient paperwork.
- UK HealthCare has a "no tolerance" policy, meaning all reports will be investigated. If the complaint is verified, offending employees will be subject to discipline, including termination.
Many insurance companies are now offering added coverage to protect against identity theft. The insurance usually exists as a rider to a homeowner policy and covers expenses of restoring credit along with the added fees associated with restoring one's identity. These fees include the cost of photocopies, mail, calls, time lost from work and attorney fees. Premiums may range from $10 to $40 for as much as $25,000 in coverage. Most policies have a deductible of $100 or higher.
For a free Kentucky identity theft victim's kit, visit the office of the Kentucky attorney general's Web site at http://ag.ky.gov/consumer/identity/default.htm or call toll free 1-888-432-9257.
Contact the Federal Trade Commission's national hotline at 1-877-IDTHEFT or www.ftc.gov for questions or concerns you may have.
The Identity Theft Resource Center (www.idtheftcenter.org) offers victim information guides, up-to-date scam alerts and a comprehensive list of sources.
For further questions related to UK HealthCare's privacy practices, contact the privacy officer at 859-323-8002 or visit our Privacy web page.
Identity theft is a federal crime. The Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998 makes it a federal crime to use another person's identification. Specifically, the law establishes the following:
- The Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov) is a central agency for complaints, referrals and resources for assisting victims of identity theft.
- The person whose identity was stolen is the true victim. (Before passing the law, only the creditors who suffered monetary losses were considered victims.)
- The Secret Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other law enforcement agencies have the authority to investigate identity theft.
- Identity theft victims can seek restitution if there is a conviction.