It's scary enough to think someone could steal your personal information and charge up thousands in credit card bills, but imagine them also taking-over your medical identity.
Medical identity theft not only puts you at risk for big bills, but also for medical mistakes.
Charlotte Parks keeps a close eye on her credit reports and what she's getting billed for at the doctor. She knows all too well that her medical identity is vulnerable.
"If you check your medicare bill every 3 months. Check and see if there is something on their that is not yours. Most of the people have to have somebody help them," says Charlotte Parks.
Charlotte volunteers as an ombudsman at a nursing home. It's her job to advocate for the people who live there. That includes medicaid fraud, which is a part of medical identity theft.
"We want to make sure everyone that they hire has a background check; that is one of the requirements of the state and to be sure that if it says they are getting medical treatment that they are getting treatment; and they are getting charged medicaid for that treatment. That's one thing we look for," says Charlotte.
Mechele Mills with the Better Business Bureau says most of their medical identity theft complaints come from seniors. "A lot of times seniors have people come into their homes to clean homes, home healthcare and you just need to be careful and lock that stuff up," says Mechele Mills, President Better Business Bureau Central East Texas.
In 2010, nearly 1.5 million Americans were victims of identity theft at a cost of $234 billion dollars. But, you may be surprised who's stealing your medical information.
"A lot of times, surprisingly, it is family members that get it from each other. They might need something done and they are able to go into someone's home and get that information," says Mechele Mills.
So, how will you know if you're medical identity is compromised-- you get a bill for medical services you didn't receive, a debt collector contacts you about money you know you don't owe, there are inaccuracies on your credit report, you reach limits on your medical benefits or you're denied medical coverage because of a pre-existing condition you don't have.
"There are people out there selling your identity for 50 dollars a pop," says Mechele Mills.
On average medical identity theft can cost you $22 thousand dollars. But the ultimate cost, could be your health. "One of the main things is if someone happens to use your identity to get medical treatment for themselves, now that is on your medical record and let's say maybe you want to get some medical treatment done, it may interfere for some treatment you want to get done for yourself," says Mills.
In this case, an ounce of prevention really could be worth a pound of cure. Charlotte tells all the seniors she works with-- "Never give out your social security number because they prey on the low income and getting their social security number.
While bouncing back from medical identity theft can be time consuming. The federal trade commission says don't forget to exercise your right under HIPAA laws to correct errors in your medical and billing records.
Experts say always remember to shred medical documents and cards or lock them away safely. Also check your credit reports and medical records regularly. For important information from the Federal Trade Commission, click here.