Medical Identity Theft: The Growing Cost Of Indifference

Medical identity theft: the growing cost of indifference
Second annual study reveals medical identity theft is on the rise, yet consumers remain unmoved by the risks

Irvine, Calif., March 15, 2011 — While consumers grasp the importance of protecting their medical and personal information, few individuals take the necessary precautions to avoid medical identity theft. This finding comes from the second annual National Study on Medical Identity Theft by The Ponemon Institute  and sponsored by Experian’s ProtectMyID™, a leading, full-service provider of identity theft detection, protection and fraud resolution. 

It is estimated that nearly 1.5 million Americans are victims of medical identity theft, up slightly from last year, according to this comprehensive study.  Alarmingly, the average cost to resolve a case of medical identity theft stands at $20,663, up from $20,160 in 2010. Other key findings from the survey include: 

• Recognizing the importance of privacy does not equate to action
Despite consumer desires for medical data privacy and statistical findings of data vulnerability, people are not taking action to protect their valuable health information. Nearly 70 percent of study respondents felt it was important to have personal control over their medical records, and 80 percent felt that health care organizations should ensure the privacy of these records. However, these beliefs do not translate to action, as 49 percent of victims took no new steps to protect themselves after a crime.

• Consumer indifference is fueled by lack of understanding of repercussions
Fifty percent of former victims chose not to report the incident to law enforcement at all, up from 46 percent in the 2010 study. The number one reason for this failure to report was the lack of resulting harm and the desire to not make it a big deal (43 percent). In fact, more victims fear embarrassment (37 percent) than the loss of medical coverage (21 percent) or a diminished credit score (18 percent) as a potential result of medical identity theft.

“Our study shows that the risk and high cost of medical identity theft are not resonating with the public, revealing a serious need for greater education and awareness,” said Dr. Larry Ponemon, chairman and founder of The Ponemon Institute. “We also feel these results put an even greater onus on healthcare organizations to make the security of sensitive personal health information a priority in order to protect patient privacy.”

• Medical data breach notification fails to protect the consumer
The risk of medical identity theft lies beyond consumer control, as health care organization data breach accounts for a significant portion of reported incidents. When a breach occurs, the organization normally is required to inform the affected people, depending on state law notification requirements. However, only 5 percent of victims learned of their theft from a data breach notification, which is especially troubling when considering that data breach accounted for 14 percent of all theft instances. This includes breaches involving health care providers, insurers or other related organizations.

“The results of this study shed a troubling light on not only the pervasiveness and consumer perceptions of medical identity theft, but also the dangers of data breach,” said Jennifer Leuer, general manager of Experian’s ProtectMyID. “These factors can be unnerving, but luckily there are products like ProtectMyID that give people peace of mind, knowing that they are not alone in the fight to keep their identities safe.”

• Consumers are uninformed of new health care reform policies
The majority of survey respondents (55 percent) are not familiar or have no knowledge of the new policies, and 79 percent are not aware of the creation of a national electronic database of Americans’ health information. Furthermore, 33 percent believe that a national electronic database will increase the risk of medical identity theft. The lack of general awareness makes consumer education about medical identity protection all the more critical in the face of shifting policy.

• Medical identity theft is a family affair
The study also revealed the startling rate at which medical identity theft occurs between family members. In fact, theft of this nature accounted for 36 percent of all victim responses, making it the most common type of theft. The frequency of family-related medical identity theft contributed to the most commonly stated reason (51 percent) why victims elected not to report a given incident: the victim discovered that he or she knew the thief and did not want to report him or her.

Based on the results of the second annual National Study on Medical Identity Theft, it is clear that the threat of medical identity theft poses a multitude of risks to consumers. In order to combat these risks, ProtectMyID offers assistance that can help victims of medical identity theft. The following features are currently available:

• Medical Identity Theft Resource Center —  Provides members with valuable information about how to protect themselves, obtain medical reports, understand Explanation of Benefits notifications and much more. 

• Dedicated Identity Theft Resolution Agents — These agents are trained to notify and work with health care providers on behalf of customers to resolve any theft-related issue. This removes the mystery and uncertainty from dealing with providers.

• Lost Wallet Identity Protection — The ProtectMyID Lost Wallet and Card Protection protects members’ credit, charge, debit, ATM and medical cards in the event that they are lost, stolen or misused.

• Alerts — These inform members quickly when medically related collection actions occur. Forty-six percent of respondents learned of the medical identity theft from a collection letter. This number is up from 40 percent in 2010.

Matt Lifson
Edelman PR
1 323 202 1047

Becky Frost
Experian Consumer Direct
1 949 567 6594

About the study
Fieldwork for this research was concluded in January 2011. More than 1,672 consumers in the United States participated in this study, completing a Web-based survey. Of these, 718 have been victims of identity theft. Fifty-one percent of respondents have private insurance, and 21 percent have Medicare or Medicaid. Fifty percent have a college or advanced educational degree.

About The Ponemon Institute®
The Ponemon Institute is dedicated to advancing responsible information and privacy management practices in business and government. To achieve this objective, the Institute conducts independent research, educates leaders from the private and public sectors, and verifies the privacy and data protection practices of organizations in a variety of industries.

About Experian’s ProtectMyID
ProtectMyIDTM is a leading, full-service provider of identity theft detection, protection and fraud resolution. ProtectMyID offers comprehensive identity theft protection products supported by experienced identity theft resolution professionals who deliver personal attention that customers can rely on. is a Website owned by, Inc., an Experian company. For more information about how ProtectMyID helps consumers protect themselves against identity theft, please visit

About Experian
Experian® is the leading global information services company, providing data and analytical tools to clients in more than 90 countries. The company helps businesses to manage credit risk, prevent fraud, target marketing offers and automate decision making. Experian also helps individuals to check their credit report and credit score and protect against identity theft.

Experian plc is listed on the London Stock Exchange (EXPN) and is a constituent of the FTSE 100 index. Total revenue for the year ended March 31, 2010, was $3.9 billion.
Experian employs approximately 15,000 people in 40 countries and has its corporate headquarters in Dublin, Ireland, with operational headquarters in Nottingham, UK; Costa Mesa, California; and São Paulo, Brazil.

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