Identity theft, online phishing, credit card fraud… today’s world can feel like there’s danger lurking around every corner. Online scams are a part of everyday life, and unfortunately, many scammers target seniors. One way criminals do this is by posing as Medicare representatives.
As Medicare fraud grows more sophisticated, you may have a hard time figuring out who is a scammer and who is a real representative. The best way to protect your information is to learn what to watch out for. If you know what to look for and you’re targeted by a scammer, you’ll be prepared!
The basics of Medicare fraud
Scammers ramp up their efforts during Medicare enrollment periods, knowing you’ll be less suspicious of contact during this time. Because you may be searching for plans online or for help to self enroll in Medicare, you’re more likely to accept a cold call offering assistance.
Most scammers are trying to get your social security number, Medicare number or bank information. The safest way to ensure you stay protected is by only talking with providers or representatives you already know or who you called directly. If you receive a contact that seems suspicious, call 1-800-MEDICARE to confirm the representative is legitimate.
How Medicare scammers contact you
Because scammers try to contact you through different channels, preparation is essential. The method of communication will affect the type of scam they try to pull.
Phone is the most common way Medicare scammers will contact you. Many times these calls will sound reputable. And you can’t trust your caller ID to tip you off. Scammers can use technology to manipulate their phone numbers and appear legitimate. When in doubt, ask for a name and callback number. Asking just a few simple questions is often enough to scare off a would-be scammer.
Though less common, scammers sometimes try to reach you through snail mail or email. You may receive fake brochures or promotional flyers advertising free or low-cost medical equipment. These are sent out in the hope you’ll call the listed number and volunteer your information.
This is the most invasive tactic of all. But sometimes scammers will come directly to your front door. They may claim to be a Medicare representative or pose as an agent trying to help you find Medicare plans in your area. Real Medicare representatives will never visit you at your home. And Medicare insurance agents are prohibited from coming to your home without an invitation from you. (For more information on what people representing Medicare plans are allowed to do, click here.)
How to spot fraud
The approaches vary, but there are several strategies scammers use over and over. No matter the pretense, these fraudsters all have the same ultimate goal—getting your personal identifying information. They may even tell you you’ll be charged a fee if you fail to provide it! Here are the most common tactics used to trick you into providing your personal details:
- Offering a free product or service in exchange for Medicare information.
- Pretending they need to issue you a refund.
- Saying they need to send you a new or replacement card. Your Medicare card has no expiration date, so unless you’ve called to report your card lost or stolen, this is likely a scam.
- Needing to “verify info” before assisting you to enroll in Medicare. This tactic can seem legitimate, because the scammer may already have some information about you (name, telephone number, address) providing them the credibility to ask for more.
- Preventing cancellation. Scammers will try to convince you your plan will be canceled unless you give them your information.
How to report fraud
If you’ve already given your information to a caller, only to realize afterwards the interaction was really an attempt to con you, don’t blame yourself! These scammers are good at what they do and can be very convincing.
As soon as you realize you’ve been contacted by a scammer, hang up and make a report to Medicare. You can do this either by calling 1-800-MEDICARE or by filing a report online. Reporting will help secure your information in the case of a breach and will prevent other seniors from being taken advantage of in the future.
image credit: shutterstock/Vitalii Vodolazskyi