Medical identity thefts on the rise

Published 27 August 2008

The move from paper to digital patient records opens new opportunities for identity thieves

All the plans for overhauling the U.S. health care system to make it more affordable and accessible emphasize the need to move from paper patient records to digital records. This move would allow for greater efficiency, cost savings, and accuracy, but there is a dounwside to it, as evidenced by the fact that medical identity theft is increasing, in part because of the wealth of personal information available digitally in medical records, experts say. Much of this identity theft is coming from within the medical community. There is a lot of money to be made in medical identity theft, Hunter King, a researcher with managed security services firm SecureWorks, told Sue Marquette Poremba of Medical records include not only names and addresses, but also employer and credit card and bank account information, which is why it is so profitable. “It’s more information than you’ll find almost anywhere else, which is why medical identity theft is increasing faster than retail or banking thefts,” King said.  “Also, in health care, that information is shared with other doctors, insurance companies, other health care facilities, and there’s a risk of those other systems not being as secure as they should be.”

King added that another problem his company is seeing involves employees who visit infected Web sites. “That infects the computer the employee is working from, and it can launch attacks on information on the server,” he said.

Fifty million uninsured Americans are also being blamed for the rise in medical identity theft, said Jay Foley, co-executive director of the Identity Theft Resource Center. “A growing number of uninsured are using other means of to get their health care,” Foley told “Rather than use their own name, they’ll use someone else’s information, like a relative or friend.” Not only is that committing insurance fraud, Foley added, but it means the real person’s medical records are filled with misinformation.