By Richard Ott, compliance and privacy officer, risk manager, at The Portland Clinic
As a society, we are experiencing an unprecedented tsunami of scammers. These brazen exploiters are today’s pickpockets, but they’re looking for a different type of currency: your personal information. And they’re absolute experts at getting it.
They call. They text. They email. They’re friendly and chatty, often offering something free “if you can just fill out our brief survey” or “confirm your name and birth date,” etc. And before you know it, you’ve given them information that they can use to apply for credit cards, take out loans, fill fraudulent prescriptions, target you for further solicitations, or steal – and sell – your identity.
At The Portland Clinic, we take a variety of measures — from multi-factor authentication and password security in MyChart to regular audits of our cyber-security system, among many other efforts — to keep your personal and health information secure. Here are some ways that you can protect it, too.
Watch for red flags
Today’s scammers are very slick, but there are several warning signs that can help alert you to their scams. If a call or email raises any of these red flags, do not respond:
- “Dear patient” emails or letters – The Portland Clinic will always use your name and often your medical record number (MRN) when contacting you.
- Calls from “the clinic” or “your doctor’s office,” especially if you haven’t been in recently or don’t have an upcoming appointment. We will always identify ourselves as The Portland Clinic.
- “Free” offers – you’ll likely pay with your information, and maybe much more. One recent scam offered free genetic test kits from a company claiming to partner with Medicare. People who accepted not only gave away their information, but also ended up with hefty bills from Medicare when their claims were denied.
- Requests for your personal information from anyone you don’t know or haven’t contacted yourself.
- Emails with strange wording, odd or misspelled words, mixed up tenses, strange phrasing, etc.
When in doubt, don’t
If you feel the tiniest bit of discomfort or doubt about the authenticity of a call or email, listen to your intuition.
A few “don’ts” can help you avoid costly mistakes:
- Don’t pick up unknown calls or click links from unknown senders. Many are from automated “bots” that are fishing for a response of any kind so they can target you personally.
- Don’t give information to people you don’t know – that includes your social security number, Medicare number, driver’s license number, birth date, address, or “a good call-back number.”
- Don’t accept offers from unknown people, even if they claim to be from “your clinic,” “your doctor’s office” or “a Medicare partner.” If you’re not sure, hang up and call The Portland Clinic or Medicare directly to check.
Three “do’s” to protect yourself and your family
In addition to the “don’ts,” these “do’s” will help you and your family steer clear of scammers:
- Do add The Portland Clinic phone numbers* to your contacts list. That way, you’ll have a better idea that it’s us when we call. (*We may call you from different numbers, depending on which office is contacting you.) Also, please be aware that scammers can falsify their caller ID.
- Do hang up and call us back if you’re not sure it’s us. If a call from “the doctor’s office” sounds iffy, requests personal information or is unexpected, ask for the caller’s full name, hang up, and call The Portland Clinic number to check. If it was us, we’ll connect you and won’t be offended at all that you doublechecked. If it wasn’t us, we can open a fraud investigation.
- Do talk to your elders about the new “stranger danger.” Those who are less technologically savvy may be more vulnerable to manipulation. Share this information with your elders, your kids, and your whole family to help keep their information secure.
No one is suggesting that you go through life suspecting everyone — that would make your world a smaller, darker place. But building awareness and protective skills can help you move through the world with greater security, safety and confidence.
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