Medical identity theft occurs when one party obtains the health-related identifying information of someone else and uses it for unlawful purposes. These may include obtaining prescription drugs under false pretenses, filing fraudulent health insurance claims or getting medical care in someone else’s name. There can be significant consequences for the individual whose identity has been compromised.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the types of information that are valuable to the alleged identity thief include individual Social Security numbers, names and health insurance IDs. The elderly are frequent targets of medical identity theft because everyone over the age of 65 in the United States qualifies for Medicare. Alleged thieves may use the phone to contact senior citizens and obtain Medicare information by making spurious threats or promises. Another possible technique is to approach seniors in public places and ask for Medicare numbers in exchange for services or gifts.

The Federal Trade Commission explains how a person whose information becomes compromised may suffer ill effects as a result of the alleged medical identity theft. A hospital that does not receive payment for treatment that an individual neither requested nor received, yet appears on his or her record, may report the charge to collection agencies. This can have a negative effect on the individual’s credit rating. More seriously, medical identity theft could result in the individual’s medical file containing erroneous information unrelated to his or her actual health history. Inaccurate medical records can lead to false diagnoses, unnecessary treatments or other complications that could prove life-threatening.

Individuals should protect health information by carefully guarding IDs numbers and checking both financial and health records for errors. The appropriate authority should receive a report of any discrepancies.