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By Herb Weisbaum

Identity theft comes in a variety of flavors. Some ID thieves just want your credit or debit card number to go on a shopping spree. Others steal your Social Security number to open new accounts in your name.

A medical identity thief uses your name and health insurance information to see doctors, get prescription drugs or file bogus claims with you health insurance provider.

It’s an insidious crime that can have serious consequences for the victim. If the thief’s medical history is mixed with yours, you could be denied insurance coverage for legitimate procedures or receive improper medical treatment when you go to the hospital.

Nikki Junker Today

“Medical identity theft is a rapidly growing area of identity theft as criminals are discovering that there is much more to gain from a single medical identity versus a single financial identity,” said Nikki Junker with the Identity Theft Resource Center, a non-profit that helps victims deal with this crime.

Fraud experts say medical identity theft is a serious and growing crime in the United States which cannot be solely measured by the monetary loss, which is substantial. The Ponemon Institute, a research firm that specializes in information security, pegs the cost of this crime at $41 billion in 2012.

According to World Privacy Forum, medical identity theft often results in “a trail of falsified information in medical records that can plague victims’ medical and financial lives for years.” That’s why this crime is so difficult to deal with.

“First, there is the financial aspect that must be rectified,” Junker explained. “Second, insurance may have gotten involved and those records need to be straightened out. Third, you need to correct all of your medical records.”

And that’s not easy because there is no central database for all of your medical records. Any doctor or hospital in the country could have bogus files on you that you will never know about.

Junker pointed out that stolen Social Security numbers are not the only way a medial identity thief can make a hospital, doctor or pharmacist think they are you.

“When someone enters an ER, they have to be treated. If a criminal provides a photo ID or another form of identification with the victim's information, the victim is now linked to the hospital visit,” Junker said.

During a TODAY Money Chat this week, Junker talked about various types of crimes involving stolen identity. Read the full chat here:

More Info on Medical Identity Theft:

Herb Weisbaum is The ConsumerMan. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter or visit The ConsumerMan website.