Identity theft and identity fraud are often used interchangeably. Probably because the perpetrators of both criminal acts seek to benefit fraudulently. However, it's important to recognize they are not the same.

In today's digital world, we all face the constant risk of identity theft.

However, most individuals seeking to exploit the personal data of others aren't just malicious. They're smart, too. Certainly smart enough to recognize that those in the medical field and other high-income professions have the most to "offer".

At some point, identity thieves and fraudsters will at least attempt to access your personal data. Whether it's your credit card information or Social Security number, they are masters at impersonating others for financial gain.

This often includes:

  • Registering new cell phone numbers and credit cards in your name.
  • Hacking into your personal accounts, known as account takeover.

And for the successful ones, these are only the basics.

With this in mind, here's how to to spot warning signs of identity theft (and hopefully prevent them in the first place).

Identity theft vs. identity fraud

Identity theft and identity fraud are often used interchangeably. Probably because the perpetrators of both criminal acts seek to benefit fraudulently. However, it's important to recognize they are not the same.

Identity fraud is a crime in which someone uses a fake identity for personal gain. Unlike identity thieves, identity fraudsters start from scratch instead of stealing information from real people. They then attempt to open true accounts or even new lines of credit using this fictitious information.

For this reason, identity fraudsters prefer to swindle businesses with their false information. On the other hand, an individual whose information has been stolen is a victim of identity theft.

Ultimately, the key difference between identity theft and identity fraud comes down to who is at risk:

  • Identity theft targets real people and their private information.
  • Identity fraud targets merchants, banks and other financial institutions.

What are the different types of identity theft?

Unfortunately, many do not fully understand the threat that identity theft poses to their wellbeing.

In fact, very few are aware of the actual criminal acts these thieves engage in --- let alone how common they are.

Simply put, identity theft can occur any time someone attempts to benefit from your personal data. That said, here are the three main types of identity theft that you face as a doctor.

1. Social Security number identity theft

This is arguably the most common form of identity theft. Your Social Security number (SSN) may be the most important government-issued identity asset you own. If your SSN gets stolen, there are variety of illegal ways can use it, such as:

  • Selling it to illegal citizens.
  • Stealing money and/or property.
  • Accessing opportunities that are only available to SSN holders.

Your stolen SSN can also be used open new credit card accounts as well as forging documents such as passports.

2. Medical identity theft

More than 2.3 million American adults fall victim to medical identity theft every year.

Medical identity theft occurs when someone steals your medical personal data, including ID numbers. It is often done with an intent to illegally access medical services and products.

Medical identity theft can cause significant financial losses to both victims and merchants.  As a licensed doctor, this could mean using your credentials to access specific prescription drugs. Similarly, they can alter whatever records that you have about your patients.

3. Insurance identity theft

In many ways, insurance identity theft relates closely to medical identity theft. It typically occurs when someone steals your medical identity data in an effort to:

  • Access your insurance coverage.
  • Receive medical treatment.

If this happens to you, you are likely to have huge medical bills and higher insurance premiums.

Best practices for identity theft protection

Identity thieves are always on the lookout for chances to exploit your valuable information. Similarly, they always seek to uncover new ways to access your personal data. This highlights the significance of continually protecting yourself from identity theft.

Often, identity theft occurs via:

  • Malware.
  • Deception.
  • Information access through payment methods.

To protect yourself from identity theft via malware in 2021, avoid clicking on unfamiliar links in emails. Security and antivirus software can help you prevent fraudsters from infiltrating your inbox in the first place. You should also avoid downloading suspicious software and documents whose source you are unaware of.

Deceptive methods used by identity thieves include:

  • Phishing.
  • Spoofing.
  • Business email compromise.

To prevent this from happening to you, always counter-check email addresses for legitimacy. Similarly, ensure that websites addresses that you feed onto your browser have proper names.

Identity thieves may also target the financial information of you or your practice through your payment methods. This can be carried out through:

  • Credit or debit card fraud.
  • Point of sale and ATM skimming.

To prevent identity theft through payment methods, make sure the websites you make online purchases from are secure. If purchases on any of your accounts don’t add up, contact your credit card company immediately. You also need to watch out for ATMs that tend to “hang” when you insert your card.

Key takeaways

Identity theft is a prime example of something you don't think will ever happen to you until it does. Because it's not a physical threat, it feels distant, rare and unknown. But as we outline above, identity theft is far more prevalent in today's world that many people realize.

As we all transition to managing more and more of our sensitive personal data online, it crucial to understand:

  • The differences between identity theft and identity fraud.
  • The various types of identity theft to watch out for.
  • The best ways to protect sensitive information.

Not only will this help you pinpoint suspicious activity, but you'll also be more confident in taking the proper course of action to stop it.

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Jack Wolstenholm - Head of Content Marketing

Jack is the Head of Content Marketing at LeverageRx, the personal finance company that simplifies how healthcare professionals shop for financial products and services. A Creighton University graduate and former advertising creative, he has written extensively about topics in personal finance, work-life, employee benefits, and technology. His work has been featured in MSN, Benzinga, TMCNet, StartupNation, Council for Disability Awareness, and more.

Physician FinancePublished January 29, 2019