Anthem Hack: Credit Monitoring Won’t Catch Medical Identity Theft

Local News
(NBC News) Health insurer Anthem is offering free credit monitoring after a major breach that may have affected as many as 80 million records, but customers should watch out for an especially insidious type of fraud: medical identity theft.

Anthem disclosed the hack late Wednesday, saying customer information that could have been compromised includes names, Social Security numbers, street addresses — and the medical ID numbers found on customers’ health insurance cards.

Criminals can use those numbers at hospitals, emergency rooms and pharmacies to receive care and prescriptions, racking up charges and wrecking victims’ medical records. (No health data or financial information was included in the breach, the company said.)

“It’s like an unlimited credit card that gets you ‘free’ access to expensive services and drugs,” said Bob Gregg, CEO of ID Experts, which provides breach-response services to major U.S. companies. “Everyone thinks about credit cards and bank accounts, but medical identity theft can be much more damaging and extremely hard to fix.”

That’s because any medical care a criminal receives while using a victim’s ID number gets added to the victim’s health record — and may go unnoticed for months or even years. The effects “can be life-threatening,” as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services notes on its website.

Imagine an unwitting medical ID theft victim who is rushed to the hospital for emergency gallbladder removal, but the patient’s record shows the gallbladder was removed last year. That could cause confusion for the healthcare providers and serious delays in treatment, as could incorrect information about blood types or possible drug interactions.

Anthem wouldn’t comment specifically on the potential for medical identity theft, but vice president of communications Kristin Binns told NBC News: “The best advice and counsel we can give people is that if they’ve been impacted, they’ll receive information through a mailing. We’re offering credit monitoring for a year and we encourage people to call the number in the mailing if they have any questions.”

Read more on NBC News.

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