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Consumer Protection

Business fraud (aka "scams") cost Minnesotans money and headaches every day. Even though laws protect us, consumers have a big role to play in choosing products and services that they will find satisfactory. You can help protect your family by:

The following resources will help you and your family avoid scams and learn how to keep yourself organized and prepared.

Dealing with Credit Data Breaches

Rosemary K. Heins, Extension Educator — Family Resource Management

January 2014

Occasionally news reports announce big retailer data breaches or data stealing by computer hackers of customer information. When these events happen we need to be aware of what laws protect us as consumers.

Liability for fraudulent charges is limited under federal law. Responsibility for unauthorized credit card charges is limited to $50, and in some cases would be zero dollars. Responsibility for debit card fraud is a bit more; it is $50 if you notify the bank within two days, up to $500 afterwards. It is unlimited if you fail to report the fraud charges within 60 days.

Since money for debit card use comes directly out of your bank account, you won’t be able to use that money until the fraud charge is reversed. However, some card payment networks, may voluntarily have a “zero liability” policy that limit the loss to zero dollars. If you ask the card issuer for a replacement card, ask that any expedited fee be waived.

Check your credit report but don’t panic. You should be checking your credit report on an annual basis for free. However, the theft of a credit card number is unlikely to lead to the thief opening new accounts since Social Security Numbers are not part of the credit card data. Expensive credit monitoring services or fraud detection services are not necessary.

Consider is putting a security freeze on your credit report which prevents your credit report from being shared with potential new creditors. This is a right you have nationwide.

If you learn that your personal data has possibly been breached, take a deep breath, and remember you do have consumer protection rights that can work for you.

Source:

National Consumer Law Center, http://www.nclc.org/images/pdf/pr-reports/pr-creditcardbreach2013.pdf

Avoiding Home Improvement Scams

Rosemary K. Heins, Extension Educator — Family Resource Management

July 2013

There is a saying "my home is my castle". Whether your "castle" is a log cabin, or a newer 2,200 square foot ranch style home, a time may come when you think “a new porch or deck or kitchen remodeling would be nice.” There may be a temptation to have someone do the work at a ‘too good to be true’ price for the job. What are tip-offs that a con artist may be trying to lure you in?

The Minnesota Attorney General's Office publication “Citizens Guide to Home Building and Remodeling” provides guidelines for selecting a contractor and writing a home improvement contract. It includes information on Minnesota’s mechanic’s lien law which is designed to protect you.

Here are the publications' tip-offs to fly-by-night home improvement scams. Be wary of working with contractors who do the following:

  • Arrive in an unmarked truck or van.
  • Claim “we’ve just done a job nearby and have material left over so we can do the job for half price.”
  • Can only provide a post office box address, with no street address, or a telephone number that is just an answering service. Even a street address should be checked to see if it exists.
  • Use high pressure sales tactics.
  • Refuse to give you a written estimate or contract.
  • Request that you obtain any necessary permits.
  • Refuse to give their license number. Information on who is required to be licensed is in the handbook, too.
  • A final tip-off for a scam is requiring full or substantial payment before work begins. A down payment to cover some of the material costs is standard but you should not pay the whole cost upfront.

Keep these tip-offs in mind to protect yourself while improving your "castle". It will save you time and money in the long run.

Source

Office of Minnesota Attorney General, Citizen’s Guide to Home Building and Remodeling, retrieved from http://www.ag.state.mn.us/Brochures/pubCitizensGuidetoHomeBuilding.pdf.

Check over Multilevel Business Opportunities

Rosemary K. Heins, Extension Educator — Family Resource Management

October 2013

Some people dream of being their own boss by having their own business. The business opportunity might be in what is called “multi-level marketing”. This means individuals sell products to the public in direct sales. Income is earned through commissions, not only for their own sales, but also for the sales of people they recruit. However, if the income is based on the number of people recruited and sales to them, it is a pyramid scheme. Pyramid schemes are not legal.

If you are considering buying into a multilevel company, get the details. Consider the products, learn more about the company, evaluate the plan and ask questions? When you question, ask the tough questions and dig for details. Remember you are considering a business deal that will require your time and money. Their responses can help you detect false claims about the amount of money you may make and whether the business is a pyramid scheme.

Here are a few questions to ask before you make any decision:

  • What are your annual sales of the product?
  • How much of the product did you sell to distributors?
  • What were your expenses last year, including money you spent on training and buying products?
  • How much money did you make last year — that is, your income and bonuses, less your expenses?
  • How long have you been in business? How many people have you recruited? How long will it take for me to begin earning money and at what cost to me?

One sign of a pyramid scheme is if distributors sell more product to other distributors than to the public or if they make more money from recruiting than they do from selling. Get a complete picture before you sign on the dotted line.

Source

http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0065-multilevel-marketing

Spotting Financial Abuse of Elders

Rosemary K. Heins, Extension Educator — Family Resource Management

October 2013

Occasionally, we hear or read news stories about scammers or trusted family members taking advantage of elders financially. An example might be an older person getting a constant stream of sweepstakes offers, instructing the person to send maybe fifty dollars, a hundred dollars, or even larger amounts to claim a prize. This could drain a bank account, often from a person with limited funds, very fast.

Spotting and stopping financial abuse of elderly is important. Banks and other financial institution staff are among the first to spot ‘red-flags’ of unusual activity in an account, and can report it to authorities to investigate. Unfortunately, a majority of the time family members are the abusers.

What are some of the signs or clues to watch for that a loved one might be a victim?

  • Unpaid bills, eviction notices, or notices to discontinue utilities
  • Unusual bank activity or withdrawals from accounts or transfers between accounts the older person cannot explain
  • Bank statements no longer come to the elder’s home
  • New ‘best friends’
  • Belongings and property are missing
  • The elder is unaware of or does not understand the financial arrangements that have been made for him or her

Some of these indicators can be explained by other causes or reasons. One sign cannot be taken as conclusive proof but a pattern or cluster of clues might suggest a problem. Contact adult protective services or law enforcement if you have reason to suspect a problem. We all have a responsibility to protect our elders from abuse.

Source

http://www.preventelderabuse.org/elderabuse/

Choose Good Passwords to Protect Identity

Rosemary K. Heins, Extension Educator — Family Resource Management

Reviewed June 2013 by the author.

News reports periodically inform us of security breaches by computer hackers. Regular internet users know the challenges passwords can provide. They are vitally important for protecting identity but if you spend much time using various websites, one may be tempted to get "sloppy" in developing distinctive passwords

One password protection manager software source, recently listed the "Top 25 Worst Passwords." The top three have not changed since last year. The three worst are: the word "password," the first six numbers or "123456" and the first eight numbers or "12345678." It's important to get creative to protect your identity online through stronger passwords.

Computer hackers like lazy password people. First of all, avoid using the same passwords or password combination for multiple websites. Especially risky is using the same password for entertainment sites as used for email, social networking and financial services.

Use passwords of eight characters or more with mixed types of characters like upper or lower case, numbers and symbols. One way to make remembering longer, more secure passwords is to use a series of short words with a number, space or symbols between each word like, "bike2town2day." Another idea would be use a favorite saying or item minus the vowels and or certain letters.

If you do jot down passwords put them in a secure location which is not your wallet or on your credit card. There is software or apps for managing and organizing different passwords but you might need another password for that, too.

Source

Federal Trade Commission, (n.d.). Privacy and identity. Washington, D.C.: Federal Trade Commission.

Unclaimed Property

Rosemary K. Heins, Extension Educator — Family Resource Management

Reviewed June 2013 by the author.

Sometimes we forget "stuff" or we may not know what is ours. At any given time the State of Minnesota holds millions of dollars in "unclaimed property" that has been abandoned or not claimed by citizens. This can include bank accounts, utility security deposits, or unclaimed insurance benefits. Most unclaimed property results from a change in address, a death, or just plain forgetfulness.

There is no charge or cost to find out if a state is holding property that belongs to you. This is something you can do by yourself for free just by contacting the appropriate government agencies. There are private companies, known as "skip tracers," that charge from 20-30% of the value of the property, but you don’t need them.

You can find out if you are the owner or the heir to unclaimed property held by the state by contacting the MN Department of Commerce Unclaimed Property Division. They maintain an unclaimed property database. You can just check the records for your name online. You can check for your name on other state databases at the same time. This is important if you’ve lived in other states.

There are federal government unclaimed property information sites, too. For more information contact the Minnesota Department of Commerce at http://mn.gov/commerce/topics/Unclaimed-Property/ and also the Office of the Minnesota Attorney General http://www.ag.state.mn.us/Brochures/pubUnclaimedProperty.pdf for more detailed information on where to do searching.

Who knows what may be out there waiting for you to claim it. It could be a nice surprise!

Sources

Minnesota Department of Commerce. (2012). Unclaimed property. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Department of Commerce.

Office of the Minnesota Attorney General. (n.d.). Is the state holding your unclaimed property? St. Paul, MN: Office of the Minnesota Attorney General.

Assisting a Parent Financially

Rosemary K. Heins, Extension Educator — Family Resource Management

Reviewed June 2013 by the author.

November is National Caregiver Month, a time to thank, support, educate and empower family caregivers. Often the assistance and support that children need to give parents includes financial guidance and sometimes financial support. Here are some suggestions for dealing with this part of the caregiving job:

  • Encourage parents to share their personal and financial records to make it easier to assist them. This could be very difficult for family members to do since this information is considered "private" and the parent may fear loss of control. Explain that you aren’t being "nosy" but simply want to be prepared to help.
  • Find out the location of important documents such as a will, marriage and birth certificates, military records. Find out the names and phone numbers of their advisors like a lawyer or an insurance agent.
  • A child may also need some type of legal authority, such as durable power of attorney to handle the parents’ financial transactions as well. If not already done, arrange for direct deposit of regular income streams such as Social Security or a pension.
  • Figure out the parent’s net worth, which is assets minus debts, and develop a budget or plan to pay basic living expenses. Help parents stretch their assets as long as possible by checking into any public benefits they may be eligible for.

Day in and day out, more than 65 million family caregivers in this country fulfill a vital role on the care team. Financial support is just one part of an often difficult job. For more information check out the University of California Extension Financial Caregiving publication series available online at no charge at http://ucanr.org.

Source

Wooten Swanson, P. C., Schindler, N., & Tran, T. T. (2009, December). Introduction to financial caregiving and glossary. Oakland, CA: University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Safeguarding Driving Record Information

Rosemary K. Heins, Extension Educator — Family Resource Management

Reviewed June 2013 by the author.

Do you know who can access information about you through your driver's license? In Minnesota the Department of Public Safety restricts access to your driving record unless you expressly consent or federal law authorizes such access. You may allow entities, including businesses, to access your driving record by checking a box on your driver's license or vehicle registration application. If you do not check the box, then only those entities authorized by federal law may access your record.

Your driver's license photograph, social security number, and medical and disability information receive heightened protection. Without your consent, that information can be released only for use by government agencies such as law enforcement, for use by insurers to investigate claims or fraud, for use by an employer to verify that you have a commercial driver's license, or for use in legal proceedings.

Most of the remaining data in your driving record is less protected. That information can be released without your consent to those entities just mentioned. A number of other business have good reason to use this information as well, such as auto manufacturers to use to inform car owners of recalls, emissions or auto safety notices.

The Department of Public Safety will not release your driving record unless you expressly consent by checking the box on the license or ownership application renewal. Thus, without your consent, no commercial or business firm can access your record to add your name to direct-mail, telemarketing, or survey lists.

Source

Minnesota Department of Public Safety. (2011, May). Important rights for subjects of government data. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

Wallet Safety Tips

Rosemary K. Heins, Extension Educator — Family Resource Management

Reviewed June 2013 by the author.

Your wallet is stolen. You immediately call your bank and contact credit card companies, close old accounts and open new ones. But even though you've done all you should, in a few weeks problems start showing up, such as bills for merchandise you never purchased. Luckily your actual liability for the cost of the unauthorized purchases is limited by law or industry standards. However, you may still spend many frustrating hours to clear your name.

Reduce your chances of becoming a victim through following these tips.

Limit the amount of confidential information you carry in your wallet. Only carry the information you really need. Social Security cards need to be kept in a safe place elsewhere.

Keep good backup information about your bank and credit card accounts, just in case your wallet is stolen. One good way is to take the time to photo copy the front and back of all the important cards kept in the wallet and keep that in a safe place elsewhere as well.

Open your mail everyday and review any credit card or bank statements. Finding a problem early should make it easier to deal with.

Check your credit reports annually. Remember this can be done for free. Obtain your report from all three nationwide credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. (www.annualcreditreport.com/cra/index.jsp/) You can maximize your monitoring capability by ordering one every four months. This may be a good strategy particularly if you have already had identify theft issues.

Some of these recommendations may be time consuming, but doing these preventive steps could save hours of frustration if you do become a theft victim.

Source

Federal Trade Commission. (2012, August). Lost or stolen credit, ATM, and debit cards. Washington, D.C.: Federal Trade Commission.

Stopping Credit Card Offers

Rosemary K. Heins, Extension Educator — Family Resource Management

Reviewed June 2013 by the author.

Pre-approved credit card offers can fill up a mail box and then the recycling container. You can stop these offers from coming your way. Federal law allows consumers to ‘opt out’ of receiving prescreened offers of credit and insurance by using a toll-free number or making the request in writing.

To opt out by telephone, consumers may call 1-888-5-OPTOUT or 1-888-567-8688. You will be asked to provide certain personal information, including your home telephone number, Social Security Number and date of birth. Federal law provides that the information you share is confidential and may only be used to process your request.

You may also mail requests to the major consumer reporting agencies. There is a helpful fact sheet titled “Tired of Receiving Unwanted Credit Cards?" available from the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office at http://www.ag.state.mn.us/Brochures/pubUnwantedCreditOffers.pdf. Download a copy directly if you are online or request a copy a copy by phone. Opt out requests must be processed within five business days, although it may take up to 60 days before the prescreened offers stop coming.

For detailed information contact the Office of the Minnesota Attorney General by calling 651-296-3353. You can stop this unwanted mail and help protect yourself from some types of identity theft. The less your name is used for mailing these types of offers to you the better.

Source

Office of Minnesota Attorney General. (n.d.). Tired of receiving unwanted credit cards? St. Paul, MN: Office of Minnesota Attorney General.

Cell Phone Disposal

Rosemary K. Heins, Extension Educator — Family Resource Management

Reviewed June 2013 by the author.

Identity theft is a huge problem with today’s electronic world. We need to think about how others might obtain information that you don’t want to get into the wrong hands. Your cell or mobile phone is a source of information about you. So if you are upgrading to a newer model you need to think about what will be done with the old phone.

Just as you wouldn’t dispose of a laptop computer without wiping the hard drive clean, you need to give the same attention to your phone. The owner’s manual, your wireless providers’ website or the phone manufacturer should provide information on how to permanently delete information. You may be able to save or transfer information to a new device before deletion.

Make sure you remove the following data: phone book, any list of calls whether received or sent, voicemails, sent and received email and text messages, organizer folders, web search history and photos.

Once you have a clean phone, here are some disposal options:

  • Recycling: check with county recycling programs for information on how this could be done locally
  • Donating
  • Reselling
  • Or disposing but remember parts of electronic devices could be harmful to the environment. Again contact your county environmental service for advice on how this can be done safely.

Source

Federal Trade Commission. (2012, June). Disposing of your mobile device. Washington, D.C.: Federal Trade Commission.

Cramming: Avoid Mystery Phone Bill Charge

Rosemary K. Heins, Extension Educator — Family Resource Management

Reviewed June 2013 by the author.

How can your phone bill say you’ve been charged for web hosting when you don’t even know what web hosting is?

Chances are you’ve been crammed. You may catch this if you read your phone bill every month. There is no one type of cramming charge. Some show up once a month; others might show every other month. Keep an eye out for generic-sounding services like minimum use fee, activation or web-hosting; they may be services you have not ordered.

If you suspect cramming, contact your phone company about it. Your phone company should be able to tell you more about the charge, and if it’s an error. Follow up with an email or letter sent by certified mail, to dispute the error. Keep a copy of your bill and any other documentation for your records. You might also want to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission or the MN State Attorney General’s Office.

Reduce your risk of cramming by being smart about whom to give information to. Read the fine print, when you decide to fill out contest entry form, particularly for a company you don’t know. Shady promoters sometimes use an entry form as ‘permission’ to enroll you in a service.

Some crammers might say in an ad "Join the Club," say it’s free, and in fact the number you call is toll free. All you have to say is "I want the service" and you are enrolled in program that comes with a monthly charge.

And a call claiming a "free prize"’ isn’t really free; 900 numbers aren’t free. Check with your phone company about blocking 900 numbers, international long distance, or other services. And keep your internet security software up-to-date, too. Be smart about avoiding the "mystery phone charges."

Source

Federal Trade Commission. (2009, February). Mystery charges on your phone bill. Washington, D.C.: Federal Trade Commission.

Extended Fraud Alerts and Credit Freezes

Rosemary K. Heins, Extension Educator — Family Resource Management

Reviewed June 2013 by the author.

If you are a victim of identity theft and have created an Identity Theft Report, you may want to place an extended fraud alert or a credit freeze on your credit file. There are important differences between these two options.

A freeze generally stops all access to your credit report, while a fraud alert permits creditors to get your report as long as they take steps to verify your identity.

The availability of a credit freeze depends on state law or a consumer reporting company’s policies; fraud alerts are federal rights intended for people who believe they are, or who actually have been identity theft victims.

Minnesota law does allow "freezing" of a credit report. This is a fee of $5 for placing or removing a credit freeze. However, it is free for those who can prove they have been a victim of identity theft. Other states may charge a different fee. A fraud alert can be placed or removed at no charge through federal law.

In Minnesota, a personal identification number (PIN) is issued to the consumer to enable temporarily lifting or "thawing" their report for a specific period of time or for a specific creditor. For example, if you are car shopping and want to allow a dealership, credit union or bank to look at your credit history to obtain a car loan. Or you may request your information be openly available for a specific period of time, like 30 days, in order to shop at several locations. After this period is over the report will automatically refreeze.

Extended fraud alerts and credit freezing are two options for identity theft victims to consider using. For more information go to the websites of the Federal Trade Commission consumer information and the Minnesota State Attorney General’s Office.

Sources

Federal Trade Commission. (n.d.). Extended fraud alerts and credit freezes. Washington, D.C.: Federal Trade Commission.

Office of Minnesota Attorney General. (n.d.). Consumer alert: What to do when your personal information is breached. St. Paul, MN: Office of Minnesota Attorney General.

Money Transfer Scams

Rosemary K. Heins, Extension Educator — Family Resource Management

Reviewed June 2013 by the author.

Wiring money is like sending cash. Once it’s gone, you can’t get it back. That’s one reason scammers often insist that people wire money, especially to addresses overseas. It’s nearly impossible to reverse the transfer, trace the money, or track the recipients.

Money transfers can be useful if you want to send money to someone you know and trust. The recipient of a money transfer gets the money quickly, but again remember it is nearly impossible to reverse the transfer if you realize you’ve made a mistake.

Don’t wire money to a stranger or someone you haven’t met in person. That includes:

  • Anyone who insists on wire transfers for payment
  • An online love interest who asks for money
  • Someone advertising an apartment or vacation rental online
  • A potential employer or someone who is hiring you to be a mystery shopper
  • Someone who claims to be a relative or friend in need. They say they’re in a foreign hospital or jail, and they beg you not to tell the rest of the family.

A variation of this scam is when someone asks you to deposit a check for them, and then wire money back to them. The scam is that the check is a fake. It will bounce and you’ll owe your bank the money you withdrew. It can take weeks to uncover a fake check.

If you think you’ve wired money to a scam artist, contact the money transfer company immediately to report the fraud and file a complaint. Ask for the money transfer to be reversed. It’s unlikely to happen, but it’s important to ask. Then file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

For more information see:

Mobile App Basics

Rosemary K. Heins, Extension Educator — Family Resource Management

Reviewed June 2013 by the author.

Mobile apps are changing the way people play games, get directions, access news, books, weather and more. They are software programs you can download and access directly using your phone or another mobile device like a tablet or music player.

Not all apps work on all mobile devices. Once you buy a device, you’re committed to using the operating system and the type of apps that go with it.

Some apps are distributed for free through app stores; the developers make money in a few ways:

  • Some sell advertising space within the app. The app developers can earn money from the ads, so they distribute the app for free to reach as many users as possible.
  • Some apps offer their basic versions for free. Their developers hope you’ll like the app enough to upgrade to a paid version with more features.
  • Some apps allow you to buy more features with in the app itself. Usually, you are billed for these in-app purchases through the app store. Many devices have settings that allow you to block in-app purchases.
  • Some apps are offered free to interest you in a company's other products. These apps are a form of advertising.

Find good information on understanding mobile apps, at the www.OnGuardOnline.gov website. They have information that will answer questions about mobile app basics, privacy issues, advertising, malware and security concerns, mobile app user reviews, and kids and mobile apps. It will help you and your families become smart consumers of mobile app technology.

Source

Federal Trade Commission. (n.d.). OnGuardOnline.gov. Washington, D.C.: Federal Trade Commission.

Tax-Related Identity Theft

Rosemary K. Heins, Extension Educator — Family Resource Management

January 2014

Becoming a victim of identity theft can become a nightmare and it can happen with tax refunds, too. The IRS uses Social Security Numbers to make sure filings are accurate and that you get the refund you are due. If the IRS mails you a notice saying their records show you were paid by an employer you don't know or more than one tax return was filed using your Social Security Number, you need to respond back immediately.

Notice I said the notice is mailed; the IRS doesn't contact people via email, text or social media message. If you do get an email that claims to be from the IRS, do not reply or click on any links. Instead, forward it to phishing@irs.gov.

If someone uses your Social Security Number to file for a tax refund before you do, the IRS might think you already filed and got your refund. When you file your return later, IRS records will show the first filing and refund and you'll get a letter from the IRS saying more than one return was filed for you.

If someone used your Social Security Number to get a job, the employer may report that person's income to the IRS using your Social Security Number. When you file your tax return, you won't include those earnings. IRS records will show you failed to report all your income. The agency will send you a letter saying you got wages but didn't report them.

If any of these scenarios happens, contact the IRS immediately. Specialists will need to work with you to get your tax return filed, get you any refund due, and protect your IRS account from identity thieves in the future.

Source

Tax-Related Identity Theft, www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0008-tax-related-identity-theft

Tax-Related Identity Theft — What you need to do to protect yourself. Transcript and audio (2:00)

Dealing with Credit Data Breaches — Be aware of what laws protect us as consumers when credit breaches happen. Transcript and audio (1:57)

Check over Multilevel Business Opportunities — Questions to ask yourself before you consider buying into a multilevel company. Transcript and audio (1:51)

Spotting Financial Abuse of Elders — What are some of the signs or clues to watch for that a loved one might be a victim? Transcript and audio (1:53)

Wallet Safety Tips — Following simple preventative steps could save hours in frustration if you become a victim. Transcript and audio (1:55)

Choose Good Passwords to Protect Identity — Avoid falling victim to computer hackers by learning what passwords not to choose. Transcript and audio (2:15)

Cell Phone Disposal — Your cell phone is a source of data about you — don't let it fall into the wrong hands. Transcript and audio (1:35)

Cramming: Avoid Mystery Phone Bill Charges — Avoid mystery phone bill charges for "web hosting" (aka "cramming"). Transcript and audio (1:55)

Extended Fraud Alerts and Credit Freezes — Reviews two options to consider using if you experience identity theft. Transcript and audio (2:05)

Mobile App Basics — Tips to help you and your family become smart consumers of mobile app technology. Transcript and audio (1:47)

Safeguarding Driving Record Information — In Minnesota, the Department of Public Safety restricts access to your driving record unless you expressly consent, or federal law authorizes, such access. Transcript and audio (1:55)

Unclaimed Property — Millions of dollars of unclaimed property is being held by the State of Minnesota — is some of it yours? Transcript and audio (1:45)

Red File: Your Grab & Go Case for Emergency Situations — Helps you put together a "grab and go" case of important information in case of emergencies.

Road Map for Important Papers (279 K PDF) — Interactive form to help you organize all your important information.

Organizing Your Important Papers Workshop — Arrange for us to come and teach on this important topic. Excellent resource for employee groups, community organizations, and more.

Assisting a Parent Financially — Financial support is often one part of a difficult situation many of us face as our parent(s) age. Transcript and audio (2:00)

HIPAA and Health Care Privacy — The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 guides health care providers in determining who they can share your information with. Transcript and audio (1:46)

HIPAA and Health Care Privacy

Rosemary K. Heins, Extension Educator — Family Resource Management

September 2013

HIPAA, commonly pronounced like the word for a large African animal — hippo — relates to medical information privacy. The acronym actually stands for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. It guides health care providers in determining who they can share your information with.

A health care provider or health plan may share relevant information with family members or friends involved in your health care or payment for your health, if you tell the provider or plan that it can do so, or if you do not object to sharing of the information. An example would be, if you do not object, your doctor could talk with the friend who is with you at the hospital or the family member who pays your medical bill.

A provider or plan may also share relevant information with family or friends if, using professional judgment it believes you do not object. For example, if you send your friend to pick up a prescription for you, the pharmacist can assume you do not object to their being given the medication. Or when you are injured and cannot give your permission, a provider may share information with family or a friend with you since doing so would be in your best interest.

These are simple examples but recognize that HIPAA is a law that health care providers are required to follow. It is part of your privacy rights over health information, including getting a copy of your information, making sure it’s correct and knowing who has seen it.

Source

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, A Patient’s Guide to the HIPAA Privacy Rule: When Health Care Providers May Communicate About You with Your Family, Friends, or Others Involved In Your Care, retrieved from http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/understanding/consumers/consumer_ffg.pdf

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