Despite your best efforts to protect your personal information, most notably your Social Security number, which in the hands of an identity thief can easily lead to your becoming a victim of identity theft, you are only as safe as the companies and agencies with the worst security that hold this information. Massive data breaches have become quite common. The business plan for many cybercriminals is to hack into companies, agencies, hospitals, educational institutions and other large holders of personal information, steal the personal information and then sell it in large blocks on the Dark Web, that part of the Internet where criminals buy and sell good and services.

So how can you protect yourself?

One of the best things you can do is to limit the places that have your personal information, most notably, your Social Security number. Hospitals and the health care industry in general has been shown to be an easy target for hackers who have managed to steal millions of Social Security numbers and other personal information which can then be used for purposes of identity theft. Many doctors and hospitals routinely ask for your Social Security number although they generally have no real need for it. In fact, the primary reason that many such institutions ask for your Social Security number is to make it simpler to go after you for an unpaid bill.

TIPS

A very simple solution to this problem and one that I have used personally and successfully is to merely tell the physician or other health care provider that I am uncomfortable providing my Social Security number and I offer some other form of identification verification if they want it. Medical care providers do not need your Social Security number to process your health insurance. Unfortunately, companies including health care providers can refuse to do business with you if you refuse to provide your Social Security number and there is no law that requires them to do business with you if you refuse to provide it. However, you may find it helpful to point out to a medical care provider who asks for your Social Security number that it is the official policy of the American Medical Association to “discourage the use of Social Security numbers to identify insureds, patients and physicians.”

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