Have you received any calls recently asking for your Medicare, Social Security or credit card information? The caller likely tried to convince you to buy into an insurance plan that’s “preferred by Medicare” or threatened to take away your benefits.
These are all common scams beneficiaries should look out for during Medicare’s open enrollment period. From now until Dec. 7, millions of Medicare users will be adjusting their plans. Yet, this increased traffic has opened the doors for scammers to try and con users out of their money or commit identity theft through fraudulent calls and websites.
“If someone asks for your Medicare identification number, sirens should go off,” Ari Parker, senior advisor at Chapter, a Medicare advisory firm, told CNBC. “Some scammers set up spoof websites. You provide your information and it goes to the scammer, who might be anywhere in the world.”
According to the Federal Trade Commission, Medicare employees have user IDs on file, so anyone who asks for it is likely a scammer. Any caller who tries to rush or bribe a user into quickly choosing a plan is also likely a scammer. Medicare doesn’t endorse any one plan over another.
“When doctors, pharmacists or other health care providers purposely claim reimbursement for services not rendered, this is known as Medicare fraud,” Lindsay Malzone, Medicare editor for Medigap.com, said. “Some will even double bill or add additional items that were not medically necessary to increase the reimbursement amount.”
Malzone suggests beneficiaries look out for the following scams during open enrollment:
Fake Medicare representatives – Medicare sales representatives do not work for the government. To adjust your Medicare plan, you’ll have to contact the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services directly. Medicare representatives will never call you first or come to your home asking for information.
Threatening loss of your Medicare benefits or coverage – Parts of Medicare, like Medigap and Part D prescription drug plans, are optional. Choosing not to enroll in one of these plans will not cause you to lose the benefits of your existing plan.
Donut hole refunds – Some scammers will tell you you’re eligible for a refund through the “donut hole,” another name for the Medicare Part D coverage gap (when your total drug costs hit a limit beyond your initial coverage period threshold). To get the refund, scammers will request your bank account information to deposit the money. Anyone who claims they’re from Medicare and asks for your banking information is fraudulent.
Aggressive, deceptive or predatory sales tactics – Fraudulent Medicare salespeople may pressure you to sign up for a plan immediately and convince you that time is running out. Everyone has until Dec. 7 to enroll, and there’s no discount for enrolling before the deadline.
The bait-and-switch Medicare plan scam – This scam technique occurs when fraudulent representatives convince beneficiaries they’re getting the best plan possible, only to sell them a plan with less coverage than what they started with.
The Medicare giveback scam – Medicare giveback scams claim to reimburse users up to $144 each month for the cost of their Part B premiums. However, only some Medicare Advantage plans offer this benefit, and it’s not available in every area. According to Malzone, these plans can be misleading and advertised as much more beneficial than they actually are.
“These plans come with many limitations, as well as higher copays and coinsurance costs,” she said. “Additionally, most of these premium reduction plans don’t offer more than one or two of the benefits advertised, such as dental, transportation, hearing, meals, etc.”
To avoid Medicare fraud during enrollment, Malzone advises users to beware of faulty plan advertisements.
“Watch out for bogus Medicare plans, like limited indemnity, Christian or discount plans that don’t provide any real coverage,” she said. “Treat your Medicare card like it’s a credit card.”
Malzone also said users should avoid calls from local phone numbers stating they’re local agents.
During these screenings, representatives promise users free results in exchange for personal information, such as their Medicare ID or Social Security number.
“Don’t fall for it,” the Bureau advises on its website. “Scammers may go through the motions of the free health screening – such as taking your blood pressure or cholesterol levels – only to use your personal information later. Health insurance scammers can use this information to bill your insurance for thousands of dollars’ worth of tests, gain access to your personal genetic information, or simply to steal your identity.”
To get help dealing with Medicare fraud, users should visit smpresource.org. Those who need accurate information about the Medicare plan options should visit the Eldercare Locator or call 800-677-1116.