Column – Protect yourself from identity theft

Published 5:34 pm Friday, April 28, 2023

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Part three of five in a series


Identity theft has become common as thieves steal personal information.

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Some of their targets are a Social Security number, birth date, credit card numbers, personal identification numbers and passwords, which allow them to use your identity to commit fraud or other crimes.

To avoid identity theft, protect your personal information. Never provide this personal information when responding to an unwanted telephone call, fax, letter or email, no matter how friendly or official it may appear. Also watch out for people trying to look over your shoulder while you’re using the ATM. 

In case your wallet is lost or stolen, report it to the proper authority or law enforcement agency. Carry only the identification you really need — checks, credit or debit cards. Keep the rest, in a safe place. Never these numbers on your checks. 

Do not give merchants your Social Security number; if requested, ask the salesperson or manager to use another form of identification, such as a passport or driver’s license. 

The Inspector General for the Social Security Administration is warning the public, and Social Security beneficiaries in particular, to be aware of fraud scams that target personal information. Visit or call a local SSA office or call SSA’s toll free customer service at 1-800-772-1213.

Keep a close watch on your bank account statements and credit card bills. Contact your bank or financial institution immediately if you believe there’s a discrepancy or if you see something suspicious. Additionally, perform an annual review of your credit report and report fraudulent activity.

If you believe you are a victim of identity theft, call the Federal Trade Commission Identity Theft Hotline at 1-877-IDTHEFT (438-4338) or visit

Medical identity theft is a serious business too. Each year, about 1.5 million adults are victims of medical identity theft, according to one study.

Medical ID theft occurs when someone steals your name and Medicare number, and uses the information to get medical treatment, prescription drugs or medications, surgery and/or other services and then bills Medicare for it.

A thief may use your name or health insurance numbers to see a doctor, get prescription drugs, file phony claims with your insurance provider or get other care. If the thief’s health information is mixed with yours, your treatment, insurance and payment records, or credit report may be affected.

If you see signs of this, order copies of your health/medical records and check for mistakes. You have the right to correct these mistakes.

Medical ID theft can cause financial harm but it is about more than just losing time and money. It can also lead to being denied coverage for a service when it shows you’ve already received it.

Ways to avoid medical ID theft include: 

  • Protect your Medicare and other health insurance cards. 
  • Review your Medicare Summary Notices, Explanations of Benefits statements and medical bills for suspicious charges.
  • Only give personal information to Medicare-approved doctors, healthcare providers and suppliers, your State Health Insurance Assistance Program or Senior Medicare Patrol program or the Social Security Administration. 
  • Beware of offers of free medical equipment, services or goods in exchange for your Medicare number. 
  • Shred papers with your medical identity before putting them in the trash. 
  • Remove or destroy labels on prescription bottles and packages before you put them in the trash. 

Chris A. Quilpa, a retired U.S. Navy  veteran, lives in Suffolk and Chesapeake. Email him at