A billion dollar crime that needs an urgent response

Published: April 19, 2011 by lponemon

Our guest blogger this week is Dr. Larry Ponemon, Chairman and Founder of the Ponemon Institute.

Join us on Tuesday, April 26th for a live webinar with Dr. Larry Ponemon presenting Medical Identity Theft Trends: The Importance of Securing Healthcare Data.

What are some of the dire consequences of medical identity theft? It could be the shock of receiving a collection letter requesting immediate payment for an expensive medical procedure you never had. Or, it might result in a mistake on your healthcare record that could threaten insurance coverage or worse yet cause you to receive the wrong medical treatment.

According to Ponemon Institute’s Second Annual Survey on Medical Identity Theft, we estimate that more than 1.49 million Americans have been targeted by this crime. With an average cost per victim of $20,663 the total national economic impact of medical identity theft crimes is more than $30 billion.

Why is medical identity theft on the rise? First, we found that consumers lack awareness about this crime, which could make them more complacent and more vulnerable. Second, medical identity theft is often a family affair. More than one-third of victims in our study say that it was a family member who took their personal identification credentials. Finally, the victims tend to be older with a greater likelihood of having Medicare and other Social Security benefits. They also may not be as savvy about the need to protect their medical identity.

Consumers can minimize their risk by safeguarding their medical credentials and making sure they provide sensitive information only to appropriate healthcare organizations that take the security of health records seriously. Consumers also should monitor health records and credit reports to make sure that if their identity is stolen the incident can be resolved as soon as possible. In turn, organizations have a responsibility to protect patients’ records from being lost or stolen and to inform consumers of the need to safeguard their medical credentials. Taking such steps is critical to reducing this billion-dollar crime.