(WSPA) – We have reported on a lot of scams that can affect your wallet, but one alarming trend can impact both your money and your health: medical identity theft.

That private information has become very valuable to hackers who can sell it to people who actually use it to file insurance claims and that’s just the start.    

Most people, like Stephanie Hazelhurst in Greenville, don’t know the dangers until they’re a part of a breach.

“I never even considered that they can get my health benefits and my insurance information and go run up charges that way,” Hazelhurst said.  

Hazelhurst got a notice from Upstate Carolina Radiology in September about a breach that had been identified nine months earlier.

“I was just completely shocked. The fact that someone can use my insurance card to get benefits is very scary,” she said.  

Think that sounds farfetched? Think again. 

Why is medical info valuable?

The digital security company Aura, which tracks the dark web marketplace, said scammers are using stolen medical files to gain illegitimate access to health services, prescription drugs and submit fraudulent medical claims.

“I can buy a stolen credit card online for a few dollars, maybe 4 or 5 bucks per card.  A Social Security card is probably about $1 per number,” Zulfikar Ramzan, at Aura, said. “A medical record or really medical information that can lead to someone usurping your insurance information, that can be worth upwards of $1000 per instance.”  

Ramzan said the reason why it’s so lucrative, is not only because the costs of medical procedures and drugs are so high, but also because most people don’t catch the theft for months or years. Which also allows scammers to continue to collect on things like bogus disability claims.  

It’s not just from hacks

Ed Rollings, in Greenwood County, experienced a different type of medical fraud, not the theft of his information, but the exploitation of his deceased wife’s end-of-life medical care.

“It’s a personal violation of myself plus her legacy,” he told 7NEWS.

Several months after he lost his wife, Barbara, to congestive heart failure, he got yet another medical bill, but something was off. He showed 7NEWS the bill.

“This phone number is not correct, there is no reference to Abbeville Area Medical Center. The account number is not the format they used. So, my thought was this may not be a legitimate document so that’s when we pull up the actual billing that the hospital uses and it’s in color,” he said. “You just start seeing these clues in the document which the hospital confirmed it was not legitimate.”

Fortunately, Rollings never paid the bogus bill, but Hazelhurst is still worried about her private information.

“I was very upset. That’s almost a year of somebody possibly having my medical information,” Hazelhurst said.

In a statement to 7NEWS Upstate Carolina Radiology said, “Investigations into these types of incidents take time, and we notified affected individuals as soon as we were able. At this time, all patients who may have been affected by this incident have been mailed a notification letter with the steps they can take.”

How to protect yourself

First, let’s address all the private information you have to give out at the doctor’s office.

7NEWS checked with the SC Hospitals Association which found that there is no legal requirement to give out your Social Security Number or your driver’s license to any hospital or doctor’s office, though your insurance company may need it to file a claim.

In other words, protect yourself by not filling in your Social Security Number on every medical document that requests it.  That is not necessary.

You can also protect yourself by:

  • reading over all of your explanation of benefits statements (EOB)
  • setting up a security freeze of your credit and if you are a part of a breach
  • setting up fraud alerts with each credit reporting agency  
  • changing your password to online medical portals
  • keeping original medical documents on file

The South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs warns healthcare and insurance companies have been the biggest targets in recent years for breaches.  

“Medical ID theft is the most expensive form of ID theft that we see reported to us.  It’s tens of thousands of dollars that often go lost to Medical ID theft,” Bailey Parker, with SCDCA, said.

Hazelhurst has this advice, “I think just pay attention to everything you get from your insurance company.”  

Both Hazelhurst and Rollings hope their stories will help warn others to be on alert.  

“I hate that we have people in this world who will actually take advantage of people in these kinds of circumstances to do something like that, so malevolent. Especially somebody as good as a person as she was.  It just staggers me that somebody would do that,” Rollings said.