Beware the Possibility of Donor Registry Scams

You may find the idea of signing up to be a bone marrow or organ donor appealing -- but be careful not to fall prey to donor registry scams.

In the over-crowded field of identity theft, medical donor registry scams haven't yet risen above the level of background noise. Luckily, few scammers have hit upon this clever method of acquiring your personal information -- at least for now.

But as legislators, law enforcement, and vigilant consumers close other avenues of ID theft, this type of scam may very well rise in prominence in coming years. Sure, the possibility you'll fall prey to it is small; but it always helps to be aware of the possibilities.

Cautious Generosity

Many of us consider it a civic duty to sign up for medical donor registries -- whether for donating organs in case of an untimely death, or replaceable tissues like blood or bone marrow. Perhaps you feel the need to do so because such a registry saved your own life, or that of someone you love.

While I hate to hinder such a high-minded impulse, and would certainly never suggest you altogether avoid such registries, you should be very careful about how much information you share with such registries... and under what circumstances you do so.

TMI

As with just about any venue, too much information, too freely shared, can be your undoing. And in their zeal to make sure that they can a) verify your identity and b) get in touch with you at a moment's notice, many such registries ask for dangerous amounts of information.

It's not that they intend the share your information with anyone; federal regulations -- especially the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA -- require that they keep it confidential. But that doesn't mean that thieves can't steal it anyway and use it against you.

Accidental... or Not

Your name and address are necessary identifiers for any registry. Add in your birthdate and Social Security Number, which some registries also ask for, and a thief has all the info they need to apply for credit cards in your name and run up charges they never intend to pay.

It's easy for them to steal your info in a public forum, like a health fair or festival, where dozens of people are coming and going during a registry drive. Worse, a really slick (and scrupulous) thief might fake a registry drive, gathering information by the boatload.

The Upshot

If you decide to sign up for a donor registry of any kind, do so in a doctor's office, clinic, or hospital where you can be reasonable certain your information will remain safe. Even if you do sign up, be cagy about providing too much info, or you might ultimately find yourself the victim of one or more donor registry scams.

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