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Prevent medical ID theft

A survey of doctors, insurers and pharmacies found that a third of them had caught someone using another person's identity to get health services. But in many cases, the thieves are after billing information so they can make fraudulent claims.

In one scam, older people were called up and told that they needed to provide their current Medicare number because the federal health care reform law required that they get a new one, which isn't true. The scammers could then use the Medicare numbers to bill the government for services that were never delivered.

The Federal Trade Commission has some suggestions for preventing medical identity theft. They're pretty basic but, at the very least, serve as useful reminders:

Never give out personal or medical information on the phone or through the mail unless you initiated the contact and are certain you know who you're dealing with.

Be skeptical of offers of free or sharply discounted services from providers you don't know who ask for your Medicare or health insurance information. Medical identity thieves, posing as insurance company employees and doctors and other health care providers, lure people in with these offers, collect their billing and other information, and then use it to make Medicare and other claims.

If you're asked to provide insurance or medical information on a website, look for indicators that the site is secure, such as a lock icon on the browser's status bar or a Web address that begins "https" (the s stands for secure).

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U.S. may clarify food labels

While the government requires packaged foods to carry the standardized Nutrition Facts panel to help you make better nutrition choices, many food companies have stepped up to provide additional front-of-package (FOP) messages and labels about the healthfulness of their foods.

Although the effort is worthy, the lack of standardization among FOP labels has led to confusion among consumers. As a result, Congress directed the Institute of Medicine to conduct a study on the effectiveness of current FOP labeling. The IOM concluded that it would be useful to replace the current hodgepodge of FOP labeling systems with a single, standardized system authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

An effective FOP system should display calorie information and serving sizes in familiar measurements, as well as a points system for saturated fats, trans fats, sodium, and added sugars, to help consumers make better food choices (and encourage food companies to develop healthier products).

Compiled from News wire sources