By now you would have to be living on another planet not to know that Medicare open enrollment is winding down. This year’s open enrollment ends on December 7th, so the clock is ticking for you to enroll in Medicare, Medigap or Medicare Advantage plans, or to review the coverage you already have. Unfortunately, according to this recent CNBC article, Medicare scam artists are watching the calendar, too, and if you’re not careful you could be a victim. These criminals are ready to take advantage of your uncertainty by ripping you off.
Open Enrollment Scams: Anything to Steal Your Identity and Your Money
“Every fall, when the [Medicare] program’s 60 million or so beneficiaries can make coverage changes for the next year, criminals tend to step up their game,” writes CNBC’s Sarah O’Brien. These fraud attempts often follow familiar patterns, but the criminals behind them are creative and relentless. Sometimes the scammers will make fake phone calls, pretending to be a legitimate Medicare representative. Other times they’ll claim to be a medical provider trying to prescribe “free” medical equipment or services. No matter what role the scam artists pretend to play, the goals are usually the same: they either want to steal your personal information or steal your money.
“Any time there’s anything in the news — whether open enrollment, a disaster or a law change — scammers like to latch on to it,” Federal Trade Commission attorney Patti Poss told CNBC. “They use things that are true to add credibility to their story and get you to respond.” During 2019, through the end of September, the FTC had received a total of nearly 2.5 million reports of fraud, identity theft and other scams, with reported losses of $1.2 billion. “While it’s hard to pinpoint all fraud instances related to Medicare,” says CNBC, “of the 332,000 reports citing government impostors, those involving Medicare or the department that oversees it — Health and Human Services — rank second.” The winner of the scam sweepstakes – the highest number of government-connected scam claims – involve Social Security fraudsters.
Open Enrollment Scams: “Free” Medical Devices and “Suspended” Benefits
One of the more common scams involves someone claiming to be from Medicare calling or writing offering you a free back brace, knee brace, or other medical device. The scam is so prevalent that the FTC even published a consumer alert last month on its website. “Scammers have been targeting Medicare recipients with a scheme to get ‘free or low-cost’ back and knee braces,” the FTC alert warns. “They’re calling, running television ads, and mailing letters to get people to give their Medicare information. But if you give them your information, they’ll use it to fraudulently bill Medicare for braces or other medical equipment. This uses up your medical benefits, which means you might not be able to get the right brace later, if your doctor prescribes one.”
The phony promise of free medical devices isn’t the only scam perpetrated by Medicare fraudsters. Sometimes a caller will threaten to suspend your benefits unless you send an immediate payment, often using a gift card or sending cash by wire. Others say they need your personal identifying information — Social Security, bank account or Medicare numbers — to establish, change or preserve benefits, a scam perfectly timed for open enrollment. Any of these account numbers could be used to access your account and steal your money or drain your benefits. (Another increasingly common Medicare scam includes offers of free or low-cost genetic testing. We wrote about this scam here on the AgingOptions blog last summer.)
Open Enrollment Scams: Fraud-Prevention Tips from the FTC
There are simple precautions anyone can take to avoid being a scammer’s next victim. Here are the important points for all of us to remember, according to the Federal Trade Commission:
- If someone calls and says they’re from Medicare and offers you a “free” or “low cost” brace, hang up right away. No one from Medicare will call you with such an offer.
- Never give your Medicare or other personal information over the phone to anyone who calls asking for it.
- If you suspect someone is using your Medicare information, check your Medicare Summary Notice to be sure you (and Medicare) are only being charged for services you really got.
- If you need a brace or another type of medical equipment or prescription, talk to your doctor. Sellers on the phone have no way of knowing what you need.
- Don’t accept medical equipment you get in the mail — unless you or your doctor ordered it. If it comes to your door and you didn’t order it, you can keep it as a gift. You don’t have to pay for things you didn’t order.
- Find out more about Medicare fraud by visiting CMS.gov or calling 800-MEDICARE (800-633-4227). Also, read the FTC’s article on medical identity theft.
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(originally reported at www.cnbc.com)