Be aware of how the COVID-19 pandemic could compromise your medical privacy and find out how to keep your medical identity safe.
Medical identity theft happens, and it’s on the rise. The Medical and Healthcare sector exposed a total of 39 million sensitive records in 2019, more than triple the number in 2018 according to the Identity Theft Resource Center.
But now we’re living in a global pandemic. Coronavirus presents many unknowns and prompts fears, opening the door for criminals to take advantage.
Calvin A. Shivers, the assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division, commented in a press release, “Criminals are actively manipulating the COVID-19 pandemic to their advantage.” The answer, he says, is to remain vigilant to avoid becoming a victim.
The Black Market
So who wants your medical info? It could be thieves who don’t have insurance of their own. Stolen medical info can also be used to get prescriptions in your name. Or your info can be used fraudulently to get payments for medical treatments never issued.
The impact to victims is they wind up footing the bill. Or, their insurance max is reached, restricting them from getting the medical services they need. Even worse, victims could become criminally charged for the crimes of perpetrators.
How does a person’s medical identity get stolen? How is this kind of theft furthered in the wake of a pandemic?
Beware of Increase in Price Fraud Scams
With the arrival of COVID-19, criminals have even more opportunity to commit medical ID theft and price fraud scams. Here are just some of the techniques that have been reported so far.
Medicare scams. Medicare beneficiaries are offered free coronavirus test kits via text, telemarketing calls, social media or door-to-door. Victims go to claim their test, and are illegitimately prompted to provide their Medicare and personal info.
Cyber attacks. Emails are sent with malicious links or attachments according to the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). Phishing emails arrive offering fake cures, testing kits, or vaccines according to a public service announcement from the FBI. The FBI warns that some of these emails could claim to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or another reputable source offering new info on COVID-19. The link may point you to a fake website that prompts you to enter personal info. Or the FBI says these links could deliver malware to your computer.
Fake coronavirus testing or vaccine. In this scam, fake testing or a vaccine is offered for free, and the victim “just” has to pay shipping. In the end, not only is the testing or vaccine fake, they’re also your getting credit card info and possibly medical info.
False testing site. The New York Times reported on a fake testing site where victims’ mouths were swabbed at a tent in a parking lot. The victims paid $240 and were asked for personal info including their social security number and credit card number for payment. Now the perps have their credit card numbers and all the facts needed for identity theft.
Fraudulent telemarketers: In an effort to steal info, telemarketers call offering free cleaning supplies or test kit. The catch? Victims are asked to provide insurance information to take advantage of the free products.
How to Defend Against Scams
Right now, people are worried. An appealing solicitation arrives offering to take away the fear either by cure or prevention. Fear drives people to do things they wouldn’t under normal circumstances. The Department of Homeland Security and other government agencies urge people to take precautions against scams. Here’s how.
- Check your source. Only use trusted sources such as government agencies for the latest fact-based information related to COVID-19. Does someone promise a cure or vaccine that no one else has? There’s no approved vaccine yet. When there is, your doctor and national news sources will be talking about it.
- Received an unsolicited email? Don’t click on links, reveal sensitive info, or open attachments. The CISA warns individuals to beware of emails with a COVID-19 subject line. Instead of clicking through to a website, go to the address directly yourself. And beware of websites that use incorrect spellings or domains.
- If you receive treatment for COVID-19, check your medical bills and EOB’s. Make sure they’re accurate, says the FBI. Be sure you actually received services filed to your insurance company. If you see an error, immediately contact your insurance carrier and the medical provider.
- Medicare beneficiaries, Here’s how to protect yourself per FEMA: Be very cautious if you’re asked to give your Medicare number or other personal information unsolicited. Be wary of unexpected visitors or strangers offering tests or supplies related to COVID-19.
- Need COVID-19 testing? Go through your own trusted primary care physician for guidance. Watch out for unsolicited offers for testing – via phone, in-person, email, says the Department of Justice.
Stay diligent, take a step back, and review anything that doesn’t sound right. If you suspect COVID-19 fraud, call the National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline (866) 720-5721 or go to Justice.gov/DisasterComplaintForm.
And finally, some good news. HealthLock provides medical identity theft and price fraud protection. Having a trusted source watching your back is a great way to safeguard your medical identity. The best part? HealthLock Basic is free. Sign Up today to see how HealthLock can protect you and your family against COVID scams.