The jingle bells have jingled, and many of us are sniffling with the latest cold virus going around. While you’re sitting in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, you are likely not thinking about how to protect your sensitive health information.

Earlier this year, the BBB sent an alert to the nation about a data breach that impacted Community Health Systems, Inc., which owns 206 hospitals in 29 states, including Illinois. The company was victim of a highly sophisticated cyber-attack by a group of hackers from China, which resulted in the theft of personal data from 4.5 million patients, including their names, addresses, birth dates, phone numbers, and Social Security numbers.

Your local BBB received numerous calls from area residents, confused about why they received the letter or how Community Health Systems got their information in the first place. We believe that not only are these hackers after credit card or bank account information, they are after healthcare information in order to obtain prescriptions.

Just a few weeks ago, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reached a settlement with Payments MD, a Georgia company that offers online medical billing services. According to an FTC press release, the company received authorization to collect customers’ health information for an online bill payment system and without their customers’ permission, tried to use the information for another purpose. The FTC says Payments MD tried to collect additional information about medical providers, procedures conducted and diagnoses given; detailed prescription information; lab information, such as test results; and information about what patients and their insurers paid.

If you are shopping for health insurance coverage, know that many websites offer “medical discount plans,” which are not the same as insurance. In fact, many of these are scams and do not deliver on the services or coverage promised. Again, many are just after your personal information.

The FTC offers these red flags as signs you might be a victim of medical identity theft:

In addition, the BBB offers these tips:

Identity theft is the fastest-growing white collar crime, and we all need to be vigilant. The BBB is here to help. iBi