Open enrollment is the prime time for scammers to try to steal your identity and your money. Although Medicare scams occur year-round, they dramatically spike in the weeks leading up to and throughout the annual window where participants make changes to their health care and prescription drug coverage plans.
My name is Jennifer Reece, Limestone County SHIP (State Health Insurance Assistance Program) Coordinator, and we have already had several calls concerning individuals showing up on doorsteps wanting to sell insurance. I advise all of my clients to ask for ID and DO NOT let anyone into their homes. In addition, they should tell the person at the door that they are busy and cannot talk at that time. Then the client should call our office, and we will call and see if the individual (or company) is a legitimate. If the client is approached through phone calls, we tell them to tell the callers that they are busy and will have to call them back. That way if the callers are not legit, they will hang up before giving a number. If they do give a number, we can check them out, and if need be, turn them in to Medicare. Always remember, Medicare is NOT going to show up at your door. If you haven’t asked for an agent to contact you, federal law prohibits an agent from trying to sell to you—whether it’s a phone call, an email, or a knock on your front door. If an agent tries to sell you something on behalf of Medicare, you should report that person to authorities.
Below are six scams to keep an eye out for during open enrollment:
1. Phone calls, emails or front door visits telling you that Medicare is issuing new cards and in order for you to get yours, you need to provide identifying information such as your Medicare number, birth date or even financial account numbers. What to Know: Medicare isn’t issuing new cards and its employees don’t contact participants through unsolicited calls, emails or visits. The will not ask for personal identifiers unless you contact them yourself.
2. Scammers claim you’re entitled to money back because of “changes” or “enhancements” by Medicare. In these schemes, the goal is to get not only your Medicare number but your bank account information for a supposed direct deposit. What to Know: If you’re entitled to a refund, a check will be sent directly to you. You won’t have to “prove” or provide anything. If you get Social Security, Uncle Sam already has your direct deposit account on file, so Medicare wouldn’t ask for it.
3. In seeking your personal information, scammers may also claim to be from state or local health agencies and seem official sounding, but use phony organization names such as the National Medical Office. And they may try to trick you by manipulating your caller ID screen. What to Know: NEVER trust caller ID. Scammers can easily make it display whatever identity and phone number they choose, thanks to “spoofing” products for sale on the Internet. Also, don’t be taken in if callers have personal info about you: fraudsters have been known to contact Medicare patients and accurately give name and addresses of their doctors. It’s unclear how they got the information.
4. Phone calls offering you free medical supplies or a health checkup. The caller may even know something about your medical condition, or you may be invited to go somewhere for a complimentary checkup. What to Know: Assume that an unsolicited call promising supplies for diabetes or other medical conditions is another attempt to collect your Medicare/Social Security number, or to soften you up for pitches for overpriced goods later. Plus, you may be told your credit card is needed for “shipping charges.”
5. Billing bilking. Told that something isn’t “usually” covered by Medicare, but there’s a way around the rule? Or that you can get a kickback for providing your Medicare number or undergoing unnecessary treatment? You may get this kind of offer if you go to a “free” medical
checkup offered by a shady group. What to Know: No matter how it’s said, it spells FRAUD- and possible criminal charges against both you and the other person. Medicare fraud is a huge problem, costing taxpayers about $60 billion a year. When in doubt, check with Medicare, your SHIP Coordinator, or your supplemental insurance provider. You should only sign a release form allowing others to make Medicare decisions on your behalf if the form’s been carefully reviewed by you, a family member, or an attorney.
6. Open enrollment is prime time for insurance salespeople to pitch supplemental policies that they promise will save you thousands in out-of-pocket costs. While there are many legitimate policies on the market, not all make sense for everyone. And it’s not uncommon for salespeople to push this kind of insurance with scare tactics, free lunch seminars and false claims of being with a government agency. What to Know: As with investment scams, a “free lunch seminar” is often a high pressure pitch for insurance that may be wrong for you but right for the salesperson.
Before signing anything, call your local SHIP Coordinator, Jennifer W. Reece, at (256) 233-6412.
Remember: The absolute easiest way to avoid a Medicare scam is to never reveal your card number to anyone who’s not a bona fide member of your healthcare team. It’s the same as your Social Security number or other personal health and financial information, and needs to be kept confidential and safe.
By: Jennifer Reece, Limestone County SHIP Coordinator