Monday, November 17, 2008
Help Me Howard: Social Security Number
We've all been to the doctor, filled out the forms and probably thought nothing of it. But one South Florida man burned by identity theft in the past said, not so fast, refusing to give the office his Social Security number. When they wouldn't let him make an appointment, he dialed Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- Unfortunately, Mel Siegel knows a lot about two things. The first, constant pain.
Mel Siegel: "I've had two cervical spine surgeries. Without constant medication, the pain is pretty much unbearable."
The second thing he had to become familiar with, identity theft.
Mel Siegel: "Three or four times my credit cards being compromised."
And his pain and his Social Security number bring us to his problem.
Mel Siegel: "I was referred to a doctor that I had not been to before."
When Mel called the doctor's office to make an appointment, they asked for his Social Security.
Mel Siegel: "I told them I did not give out my Social Security number to doctors' offices, and the reply was that we cannot make an appointment for you without it. I said, 'Why not? What do you need it for?' and they said, 'Well, our computer won't accept your information without it.'"
After being victimized more than once, Mel knows what someone can do with your social security number.
Mel Siegel: "They could eventually get a driver's license under that name. They could get a passport, they could get other kinds of ID, which gives them access to all of your assets."
Mel does not believe the doctor's office would do that, but he has seen how so many offices are sloppy with their patients' records.
Mel Siegel: "And I see other people's documentation lying around on a desk that I'm checking in, and I can easily see their Social Security numbers and their names and address. To me, that's not being very secure."
Since Mel's insurance company does not require his Social Security, Mel told the doctor's office he would not give them his number. Their response...
Mel Siegel: "If you don't want to give it to us, then you need to go see another doctor, which I did."
But the problem is still there. How do you follow the advice to protect your confidential information when everyone asks for your confidential information?
Howard Finkelstein: "There is no law that blocks a doctor's office from requiring your Social Security number, but you don't have to give it and it's wrong for the office to ask because it shows they don't understand how serious a problem identity theft is."
When we spoke to the doctor's office, they told us their computer setup will not save the patients' information without a Social Security number. Insurance companies, Medicare and Medicaid require the SSN to file a claim. And if a patient won't supply it, they need to find another doctor. Howard says, actually, it's the doctor's office that needs to change.
Howard Finkelstein: "This doctor's office needs to revamp, so their patients are not organized by Social Security numbers, and if someone requires your Social Security, don't give it Take your business elsewhere."
Mel went to another doctor and didn't have to give up his Social Security number, and he says it's clear. The problem is bigger than just one doctor.
Mel Siegel: "I think technology has kind of run away with itself, and we haven't kept up with it as far as, keeping it secure."
No doubt, Mel.
Now, if you have Medicare or Medicaid, they require your Social Security, so you have to give it to your doctor's office, and if you want to stop using your Social Security number after already giving it to a business, you can ask them to delete it, but they don't have to. In other words, once the genie is out of the bottle, it's tough to put it back in.
Identified a problem that has left you feeling socially insecure? Need someone to doctor you up? Contact us. Our numbers are posted everywhere because no one would want to steal our identity.
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