Before returning to a few more teacher “I decided that I would actually listen and follow the advice” stories, I want to look at medical identity theft. To be honest, before the Equifax hack, just like with false tax returns identity theft, I had heard about it, but I never thought too much about it, and I never really knew how it worked. Turns out that just in 2013, over 1.84 million Americans were victimized by medical identity theft, and the number is increasing, as more and more of our medical records have become electronic.

According to, medical identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information, like your Social Security number or health insurance ID, to obtain medical services or care, to submit false claims, or to buy drugs or expensive medical equipment (like an electronic wheelchair), often for resale.

How does it happen that thieves or purchasers of your medical information can do this, even having surgery done? Apparently, insurance companies don’t always verify claims in advance, much like, as we discussed in the last column, the taxing authorities don’t always cross check those W-2’s and 1099’s before they send out a refund. Apparently, with respect to the theft of care, it happens primarily in emergency rooms and urgent care facilities where there are no referrals necessary, or there may be fraudulent referrals, and with those on Medicare and Medicaid. Drugs and medical equipment purchases are easier to understand. At any rate, I plan on personally surveying a lot of doctors and medical and hospital staff in the future, and then revisiting this issue in a future column.

I would like to think that the taxing authorities and the health care industry are doing things every day to reduce these identity theft problems, and I believe that they in fact are. The bottom line is that this is a serious problem for many Americans, both financially, because of false claims and billings that a victim has to deal with, but also because of possible serious inaccuracies becoming a part of your medical records.

As with any identity theft, it is critical that you protect your Social Security number and your medical ID and insurance information. Also, carefully check that periodic claims explanation that you receive from your insurance company or other medical provider, and any medical billings you receive. Lastly, check your credit reports for any false billings, and if anyone calls or writes you about a medical claim for a service that you didn’t receive, follow up on it and contest it.

Now for those two additional “I finally listened” teacher stories. First, I am always talking about how learning about finances, building good money habits, eliminating or reducing debt, and using finances for your benefit, not for the benefit of the financial industry, can eliminate a lot of stress in your life. When I do that, and talk more about the importance of “financial wellness,” I always tell the story of a high school teacher who tells his classes every semester how he finally “really listened to the Judge.” He tells them that he made some sacrifices, and he paid off his credit card debt, paid off his mortgage early, and paid off his boat and truck loans. He also tells them how every month he puts a car loan payment in the bank for the next car, so that he will never have another car loan. He tells them how much less stress there is in his life as a result, and that it is a goal that they should set for themselves in their futures. What a great message and example to the students.

Second, when I talk about “cash is king,” because people who use cash make better and different spending decisions, and spend less, since they are more connected to their hard-earned money, I talk about a college professor. Every semester she would tell her college students that she too finally listened and took the Judge’s advice. She said that she committed herself to use more cash. She started to carry more cash all of the time, and to use it as much as possible, leaving her cards in her purse except for bigger purchases. She started to only use cash at the grocery store, making out a list, bringing the cash for the items, and sticking to it, not doing any impulse buying with her cards. She said to her students that she found herself saving hundreds of dollars a month, and it was not about affordability — she was not in debt before or after — but now she has more money to do other things.

On a final subject, it is that time again: Halloween. This year the National Retail Federation estimates that Americans will spend a record 9.1 billion, up 8.3 percent from last year, and once again, they will spend more than $350 million on pet costumes. If you will be dressing up your pet, or you just want to be ready for what you will be seeing during this season, here are some of the top pet costumes: pumpkin, hot dog, bumblebee, devil, Batman, ghost, witch, and Star Wars characters. ENJOY THE

John Ninfo is a retired bankruptcy judge and the founder of the National CARE Financial Literacy Program. Find his previous weekly columns at or at