NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- In the wrong hands your insurance card is worth a fortune. It's actually the largest target of identity thieves who want it to obtain free health care.
"It is of more value than your credit card," Darrell Langlois of Blue Cross Blue Shield explained. "The thing that criminals are starting to see now is this health insurance card and the identities of those people are worth money to them and that's a lucrative process.
As CBS 2's Maurice DuBois reported, anyone can steal your insurance card and use it to pose as you to get free medical treatment and more.
Researchers estimate that more than a million people were victims of 'medical identity theft' in 2013.
"It's definitely a crime," security expert Dr. Marie Helen-Maras said.
A crime that's on the rise, and experts say the high cost of health care is a contributing factor. Even worse, few people realize that they've been victimized until it's too late.
"You'll receive a bill from a doctor for a service that you never received, or maybe even a written notice from a collection agency for a medical debt," Dr. Maras explained.
There are more than just financial consequences to medical identity theft.
"Sometimes you may be treated when you're not conscious and your family members may not be around and there is nothing more to go on than your medical records. If that medical record is not accurate wrong decisions can be made," Langlois said.
The state nearly took one mother's children away because of the alleged illegal activities of a woman who had stolen her medical identity.
"This is why we need to protect our medical identification card the same way we would our social security number," Dr. Maras said.
Experts suggest regularly reviewing medical records and bills.
"Look at the date of service, look at the provider's name. If that doesn't look like someone you have seen or associated with your care then ask the question," Langlois said.
Medical identity theft can also put you at risk for being denied future insurance because of a "pre-existing" condition that you don't actually have.
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