As reported on Good Morning America, May 3, 2006.

Medical ID Theft Can Wreck Victims' Health and Finances

New Report Says More Than 19,000 Complaints of Medical ID Theft on File

Joe Ryan knew something had to be wrong when he got a bill for a $40,000 operation he never had. So he called the hospital.

"I said, 'This must be a joke,' and they said, 'Well, you're Joe Ryan, aren't you?'" Ryan said.

Then the hospital verified Ryan's Social Security number and date of birth. It wasn't a joke — the surgery had been performed. It had been performed on Joe Henslik, though, a career criminal who had stolen Ryan's identity.

Henslik later died, but police think he first confessed on voice mail, saying, "I had to get in the hospital, but I had no insurance."

Ryan was a victim of medical identity theft, which has ruined his credit and sent his small business into a tailspin.

"The bottom line is the whole thing has just been absolutely devastating to me, and it's very frustrating to say the least," he said.

A new report out today from the World Privacy Forum, a nonprofit research group, has found more than 19,000 complaints of medical ID theft on file with the federal government.

Medical ID theft is dangerous to more than just your wallet. Criminals can use your Social Security number, date of birth, or insurance information to link doctor's appointments you've never had and medical records that aren't yours.

"If someone steals your identity and goes into the hospital and has medical treatment, you will have a medical record in your name that doesn't match your body," said Pam Dixon, executive director of World Privacy Forum. "All you do is put in an amendment that says you disagree with it."

You should regularly check your medical file with your doctor to see whether it's accurate, and keep a close eye on insurance statements. If you've been a victim of medical ID theft, your file could have the wrong blood type or falsely state that you have a history of heart or psychiatric problems, which could lead to bad medical treatment.

At the University of Connecticut Health Center, officials are so worried about medical ID theft that they've started asking for photo ID before treating patients. This simple request causes would-be criminals to run away.

"It's amazing how many times people would say, 'I left my ID in the car,' and then they'd go out to get it and then all of a sudden they never returned," said Marie Whalen, vice president of the health center.