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FRAUD WATCH

Elliot Greenblott: Don't fall for phishing scam about Medicare ID cards changing — they're not

Sample medicare card

This image provided by Medicare.gov shows a generic Medicare card. A phishing claims, falsely, that the government is changing to a RFID chip card as a way to dupe people out of personal information. 

Special Alert! Criminals have renewed their attack against Medicare beneficiaries! This message is for you even if you are not receiving Medicare benefits; sharing it with friends and family members on Medicare may save them from being on the losing side of the scam.

AARP Vermont is aware of the return of a scam first reported in this column in 2020. Victims receive a notification call from Medicare announcing a change in the Medicare identity card to one that includes an RFID chip, similar to the chip that is present on most credit, debit and ATM cards. The recipient’s caller ID displays the actual telephone number for Medicare, 800-633-4227.

The reality: This is a scam! Medicare is not currently changing the identity card to a chip card, and Medicare will not notify you of changes via telephone or email. The same is true of all government agencies. Notice of change comes by US Postal Service letter, in the news media, and through organizations such as AARP.

If you receive this call, do not provide any information or engage in conversation. Comments you make will be recorded and added to other information that has been collected on your identity.

What is the danger posed by this scam? Any criminal purchases or billing for services will appear on your Medicare coverage statement including those that require co-payments or deductibles. As the account holder, you are liable for payment unless you are able to prove otherwise.

What should you do if you believe that you are a scam victim? Report the scam by calling Medicare, 800-623-4227. The agency can replace your Medicare number, issue a new card and provide protection against fraud committed with the old card.

This situation is an example of “phishing” and identity theft, the most frequently reported scam in the country. Identity theft involves two distinct actions: data breaches and data use.

Data breaches are the release of personally identifiable information (PII), by purposeful or accidental action. They occur daily through criminal access to a company data bank or unprotected home computers, interception of email or phone calls, information given to strangers on the phone or via the internet, or personal posts on social media.

Equifax, Facebook, Walmart, TJX, Amazon, Microsoft, Rutland Regional Medical Center, IRS, and Stanford University are some examples of where data breaches have occurred, Combine those with the information people willingly provided to callers, on criminal web sites, or posted on social media accounts, and the picture becomes clear. The potential for criminal use of our private information exists and the data breaches reveal that much of our lives and personal information are already accessible.

Since protecting ourselves from identity theft is impossible, we need to turn our attention to preventing and responding to data use.

The first best step is to contact the major credit bureaus and order credit freezes. A credit freeze locks out access to credit reports which are used to determine risk and credit worthiness. Banks require credit checks when opening accounts.

Many landlords also use credit reports when approving renters, and even car dealers consider them when selling or leasing vehicles. Freezes do not interfere with current activity such as the use of credit cards; they impact new credit or activity.

Credit bureaus can be contacted at the following: Equifax, 800-525-6285 and equifax.com, Experian, 888-397-3742 and experian.com, Innovis, 800-540-2505 and innovis.com, and TransUnion, 800-680-7289 and transunion.com. There is no cost for a credit freeze.

The second step in self defense is to create or verify online access to all financial accounts including banks, investment firms, and credit cards (Medicare and medical insurance plans as well). Then develop a routine of regularly monitoring account activity and searching for transactions that are out of place.

Finally, get free copies of your credit reports from annualcreditreport.com. This site is sanctioned by the Federal Government and will not barrage you with unwanted advertising. Review the content of the reports for errors or omissions and request corrections if problems are discovered.

(Special note: You will be asked for personal information when establishing freezes or requesting credit reports. It is safe to respond.)

Elliott Greenblott is a retired educator and coordinator of the AARP Vermont Fraud Watch Network. Questions, concerns? Contact egreenblott@aarp.org

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