The Danger of Medical Identity Theft

What To Do If Your Medical Identity Is Stolen

Friendly physician talking with patient during house call appointment
Steve Debenport/E+/Getty Images

It’s likely you’ve heard of identity theft. If someone steals personal information such as your social security number, or driver’s license number or even a credit card number, it gives them the ability to establish a false identity using your information.

From racking up credit card purchases that get billed to you, to dipping into your own bank accounts, it can get expensive and complicated. It can take months or years to regain your own identity.

It’s a headache – or even a nightmare.

Medical Identity Theft

A possibly bigger identity problem lurks – and this one can have dire consequences for both your pocketbook and your health. It's your medical identity - someone steals your health insurance, Medicare or Medicaid information, and begins to make doctor’s appointments, get medical tests, give birth, even have surgery – in your name.

The problem is growing exponentially. When I first began following medical identity theft statistics in 2007, there had been a reported 200,000 cases across the United States. The latest available statistics, reported in December 2011, reflect 1.49 million victims - almost an 800% increase.

The victims may not be who you would expect. The Ponemon Institute, a privacy and security research firm, indicates that most victims are age 26 to 55, and 36% of all victims reported their identification had been stolen by a family member.

The World Privacy Forum has mapped cities in the United States where Medical ID theft has been reported.

Potential Consequences of Medical Identity Theft

  • Suppose the person who steals your medical identity is discovered to have a disease or condition you don’t have? AIDS or cancer or Alzheimers or Parkinson's disease or any other life-long diagnosis -- when you later seek medical assistance, that problem would show up on your records, and your care would be affected.
  • Perhaps you have a diagnosis of a chronic disease or condition that the imposter doesn't have, so you don't get the treatment appropriate to your health.
  • Suppose you apply for life insurance, and you get turned down because they think you have Alzheimer's disease or cancer.
  • Even something as simple as a blood test can have negative consequences if the imposter’s blood type gets recorded, and it’s different from your blood type.
  • It can mean you won’t be hired for a job ​since some companies check medical records prior to hiring.
  • The impact to your credit record and the legal costs of recovering your own identification could be huge since the medical bills would end up coming to you, and you would be expected to pay for them.
  • One young woman reported what happened when someone using her medical identity gave birth to a baby in her name; she almost lost her own children to Child Protective Services because of it!

As you can see, the ramifications of medical identity theft can have devastating consequences. It's imperative you take steps to protect your identity, including your medical identity.

Steps to Take If You Discover Your Medical ID Has Been Stolen

If your personal medical identifying information is stolen, there are several places to report the theft, and some steps you should take to protect yourself from the consequences:

  • Begin with the Federal Trade Commission's complaint process, online at or by phone at 1-877-ID-THEFT (877-438-4338) (or by TTY: 1-866-653-4261).
  • Get in touch with your local law enforcement (police, sheriff) and file a complaint.
  • Follow the process for financial reporting, as you would for non-medical identity theft. The FTC provides a list of steps for this type of reporting.
  • Be sure to follow up by getting copies of any medical records that may have been affected, and follow the process for correcting errors on your records if you find any.
  • Share your story with others. There is no shame in being a victim of medical identity theft - but there is power in sharing your story in hopes of preventing others from suffering these consequences.

    Of course, prevention is still the best way to defend against medical identity theft.