GREELEY, Colo. (CBS4) It’s the latest twist on identity theft. Thieves could use your personal information to get medical treatment, drugs, or even surgery. It could be years before you even know you’re a victim.

Dr. Lisa Rue, an assistant professor at University of Northern Colorado’s College of Education, has been tracking her identity thief since 1998.

“I came in one day and just set my purse down and somebody snagged it,” Rue told CBS4.

The criminal snagged her driver’s license which still carried her Social Security number. Six years later, Rue and her husband wanted to refinance their home and the identity theft became apparent.

“The mortgage broker we were working with said, ‘You know before we go to closing you should really take care of all of those collections on your credit report.’,” Rue explained.

Ruse has received 24 collection notices from clinics and emergency rooms across the country. All of it totaling thousands of dollars.

“There were 2 times where we were within one week of catching her, and I couldn’t get the help that I needed from the authorities,” Rue said.

The Colorado Bureau of Investigation’s Identity Theft Unit took her case. Investigators identified Linda Garvin as their suspect. The CBI says Linda Garvin has used 12 different names and dates of birth, and six different Social Security numbers over the years. One of those Social Security numbers belongs to Lisa Rue.

“It’s really frustrating.”

Many people go years without knowing they are a victim. Most victims find out when they get a bill for a medical service they didn’t receive, or a debt collector contacts you about medical debt you don’t owe, or your credit report shows medical collection notices you don’t recognized or you are denied insurance because your medical records show a condition you don’t have.

When you do find out there is a problem, it’s often way too late.

“It’s almost impossible for a victim to fix this problem,” said Pam Dixon, founder and executive director of World Privacy Forum.

Dixon is an expert on medical identity theft. Recently she spoke at a medical identity theft forum hosted at Denver Health Medical Center. Medical professionals as well as law enforcement from several agencies came together to learn about medical identity theft and how to protect patients.

“One of the most important things for all of us to do is over the course of this next calendar year, every time you go to a doctor, request all your old medical files,” Dixon told CBS4.

Once a criminal has gotten medical treatment using a victim’s name or Social Security number, the victim’s medical record could be permanently changed. The victim needs the original records to prove who they are and what the original file looked like.

“Under the federal privacy law, hospitals are not supposed to give people records that aren’t about them, and once a thief has used your file, it’s actually not you anymore … even though it is you,” Dixon explained.

If someone gets hold of your driver’s license, your insurance card or insurance card number, or an insurance bill, it makes medical identity theft easy. For Rue, it was her Social Security number used over and over again.

“She never used my real name, she only used my Social Security number. But if she ever matched those two together, that could be a potential problem,” Rue said.

If Linda Garvin had used Rue’s name and Social Security number for medical treatment, Rue’s medical record could be altered, potentially changing vital information like blood type, drug allergies, and even treatment histories.

Dixon says that every victim she talks to has one regret: that they didn’t get their medical records before they were impacted. On a scale of one to 10 in terms of importance, Dixon says it’s a 10.

She recommends that the next time you meet with your internist, your dentist, your eye doctor, start asking for a copy of your file. It may seem overwhelming, but it’s how you protect yourself.

RELATED: More Reports By 4 On Your Side Consumer Investigator Jodi Brooks

– Written for the Web by CBS4 Special Projects Producer Libby Smith


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