This article was last updated on March 31, 2020.
The phone is ringing. Do you answer it? It might be an old friend you’d enjoy catching up with. On the other hand, it might be the latest scam artist.
Whatever the case, everyone — particularly older individuals — tend to be on guard when answering calls from unknown numbers. If you’re caught unaware, you could find yourself sharing personal information and putting yourself at risk.
When it comes to your personal information, always be on guard. Share only what is absolutely necessary.
Jennifer Clover, information security consultant, Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield
According to the American Journal of Public Health External Site, 1 in 18 older Americans fall victim to financial fraud or scams annually. That figure excludes those who have been financially abused by friends and relatives. Overall, it’s estimated that 5.4 percent of older adults experience some form of fraud or scam each year.
In the case of medical identity theft, your personal information can be used to falsify insurance claims and get Medicare benefits.
"Your personal information is incredibly valuable," says Jennifer Clover, information security consultant at Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield. "In the wrong hands, it can be used to steal medical services, prescriptions, surgeries and more. This can wreak havoc on your life and your finances."
Three ways you can help protect your medical information
Although the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and other measures are intended to protect you from medical identity theft, there are things you can do yourself.
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Guard your cards
While most of us are careful about our banking information and credit cards, be sure you are also cautious with your Medicare ID card and your Wellmark ID card.
Only give your Medicare number to doctors, pharmacists, other health care providers, your insurers, or people you trust to work with Medicare on your behalf.
Keep in mind, Wellmark will never ask you for payment over the phone or the internet. You will always receive a bill for your Wellmark coverage.
Protect your Social Security number
The ultimate goal for any identity thief is to collect your Social Security number. That's why it's so important not to share this number unless it is required. "Never provide your social security number by phone or email to anyone," says Clover.
What about health care providers?When you fill out forms at your doctor's office or the hospital, you may be asked to provide your Social Security number. You may want to leave the area on the form blank, or ask why the clinic needs this type of information.
"Security practices vary among medical providers," says Clover. "While one office may be equipped to protect your medical records, another may not have adequate security in place. This can compromise your privacy and your security."
What about health insurance companies?Most health insurers require your Social Security number when you enroll. That's because health insurers must send the Internal Revenue Service information about health plan members and their insurance coverage, including their Social Security number (or other tax identification number).
Review your health care statements
Look closely at bills and statements from your health care providers for unexpected items, services or health conditions. If you spot something that seems out of place, contact their office immediately. Other tips:
- Read the Explanation of Benefits (EOB) statement or Medicare Summary Notice you receive after treatment. Check that you actually received care from the provider on the dates listed. If not, contact your insurance company and report any inconsistencies. Want to easily access to EOBs online? It's easy. Just log in to or register for myWellmark® Opens New Window.
- Shred outdated or unwanted statements, prescriptions, and labels from prescription bottles.
- If you have access to a patient portal from your health care provider, look at your online medical records monthly.
For more information about medical identity theft, fraud or abuse, visit Medicare.gov External Site.
Your information is secure
"First and foremost, we are always asking ourselves what is best for our members. At Wellmark, we are well aware of the critical need to protect your personal health information. We have well established security practices and policies."
Andy Neller, Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield
At Wellmark, we have strong policies and systems around the use and disclosure of your personal and medical information. And, they’re all designed to protect you.
"First and foremost, we are always asking ourselves what is best for our members," says Andy Neller, cyber security operations manager.
"At Wellmark, we are well aware of the critical need to protect your personal health information" adds Neller. "We have well-established security practices and policies."
Here are just a few highlights:
- Procedures are in place for Wellmark provider and customer service representatives to verify callers prior to discussing any protected health information.
- Access to medical information is limited only to people who need it to do their jobs.
- Strict security is in place for access to Wellmark's facility, personal computers and medical information.
On another level altogether, Wellmark's threat intelligence team is dedicated to what's happening in the world of cybersecurity. "They are taking a deep dive to make sure we're protected, and you're protected. In the health care industry, we must continually evolve to keep pace with ever-changing threats," says Neller.
Register for electronic EOBs at myWellmark
All registered myWellmark users can access their EOBs online. With electronic EOBs, you have access to all your health care spending records at your fingertips. You can easily sort by patient, provider or date of service to review your spending without even having to wait for a bill from your provider.
Unsure if you're ready to cut the clutter Opens New Window and securely access and track your health care spending? Check out this video.