It’s rare that a scam attempt is a one-time event.
In our experience, when a scammer hits somewhere, they keep hitting — hoping to maximize their ill-gotten gains.
We were alerted to a questionable experience one reader had last week at Walmart in North Bergen.
“I think my wife was Bamboozled,” the reader wrote, asking to remain anonymous. “Two people approached my wife with an iPad and told her they were with the government and asked her for her license and health insurance card.”
His wife, the reader said, didn’t know what to do, so she allowed them to take a photograph of the documents with the iPad.
“They didn’t show her any government ID or badges,” he wrote. “We are very concerned about what these people might do with her information.”
This is the first time we’ve heard about this attempted scam, and the reader was right to worry about what could happen to the information. And while this happened at Walmart, it could happen anywhere. (Walmart corporate and the individual store didn’t return our requests for comment.)
What could possibly happen if someone has a copy of your driver’s license and medical insurance card?
We know con artists can cause a lot of damage with just a copy of your driver’s license. They could use the information — your name, address and birth date — for any number of financial crimes, including opening up credit cards in your name, taking out loans they never intend to pay and filing tax returns before you do, hoping to get a hefty refund.
But medical ID theft is growing.
“It occurs in many of our health care fraud cases, and anecdotally, our agents have seen an increase in medical ID theft over the years,” said Todd Silver, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Inspector General, who couldn’t provide specific statistics.
According to the Medical Identity Fraud Alliance, more than two million Americans have been victims of medical identity theft.
A recent study found reports of these cases jumped more than 21 percent in 2015, costing the average victim $13,500 to fix.
While health insurance fraud is lesser-known, it’s just as much of a headache as traditional ID theft, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
Crooks often work with disreputable doctors or other medical professionals — or even organized crime rings — who will bill your plan with fake or inflated claims.
Other times, the offenders will work to get prescriptions for addictive drugs to sell or feed their own addictions.
Still others will seek medical treatment using your identity so you would be stuck with bills not covered by insurance.
HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF
Your first move is to do everything you can to keep your personal information private.
Then make sure you stay on top of all medical bills, just as you do your credit card statements.
Read all your insurance statements carefully, including all Explanation of Benefits (EOB) mailings and Medical Summary Notices, and use your insurer’s online portal if one is available.
“Check the name of the provider, the date of service, and the service provided,” the FTC recommends. “Do the claims paid match the care you received? If you see a mistake, contact your health plan and report the problem.”
The FTC says other signs of medical identity theft may include a bill for medical services you didn’t receive, a call from a debt collector about a medical debt you don’t owe or medical collection notices on your credit report that you don’t recognize.
You might need to do some sleuthing to track down any wrong medical claims in your name because unless you received a statement, you won’t necessarily know where an identity thief used your information. But if you do receive statements that show someone received care, you have a right to the medical information in your name. Don’t only pay attention to doctors and hospitals, but also labs, pharmacies and other related companies.
Another smart move would be to request your file from the Medical Information Bureau (MIB), which you can get once a year for free. MIB helps insurance companies with underwriting for life, disability and long-term care insurance, so it’s worth seeing what’s on file.
The FTC recommends you ask your health plan and medical providers for a copy of the “accounting of disclosures” for your medical records. You can get one free copy from each of your providers every year.
This will tell you what information was sent and when, who got it and why the information was sent.
It could help you track down and stop any fraudulent use of your identity.
Once you’ve confirmed someone has been impersonating you, contact all your insurance companies and medical providers and see what kind of fraud alerts they can add to your account. Also file a police report to back up your claims.
Then circle back and take extra caution by checking your credit reports, and put a freeze on the reports so no one can open new accounts without extra security steps.
Contact the IRS and the Division of Taxation in New Jersey and tell them what happened. You can arrange extra security precautions for your tax returns.
And if someone approaches you in a retail store claiming to represent the government, ask for some ID.