Medical identity theft puts lives at risk

Identity theft is now the fastest growing crime in America, but there's one type of identity theft that most people don't know about, and it could kill you.

Imagine being rushed to the hospital with appendicitis, but your medical chart - unbeknownst to you - shows that your appendix has already been removed. That confusion could delay treatment.

What if your blood type is different from what's in your medical file? Or maybe you have severe drug allergies, but the records have been changed, and now show you don't have any?

This is what can happen to victims of medical identity theft, a rapidly growing problem that relatively few people know about.

Medical identity theft takes place when someone uses your name and personal identifying information to receive medical services, devices and/or prescription drugs.

Because your medical records get contaminated by the perpetrator's medical information, it could literally kill you.

This crime is on the rise, up 20 percent within the last year, according to a new national survey released today from the Ponemon Institute which specializes in privacy issues.

According to the survey conducted for the Medical Identity Fraud Alliance, nearly 2 million Americans have now become victims.

Fraud experts say they expect things to get worse, because a medical record is now more valuable than other forms of personally identifiable information, like a credit or debit card record.

This is why it's so important to guard your medical information. Make sure you only give it out to someone you trust, and shred any documents that have medical information on them before you throw them out.

It's also important to review the "explanation of benefits" statement you get from your doctor or medical provider after an office visit or treatment, even if insurance is paying the bill.

Make sure the listed doctors and services are correct. If not, contact your insurance company right away.

More Information: Medical identity theft could cost your life

Herb Weisbaum is The ConsumerMan. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter or visit The ConsumerMan website.