Fraud Watch | Beware! Medicare scams appear on all fronts

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Attention Gen Xers and millennials: Your parents and grandparents are under attack!

Seniors, pay attention! A major scamming effort is underway targeting Medicare recipients and those eligible for services. The attack is being mounted on three fronts — mail, phone and internet and includes multiple tactics.

Why are con artists attracted? Medicare represents a huge "cash cow" waiting to be milked by scammers. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, in 2015 Medicare covered 57 million people at an expense of $632 billion — 15 percent of the entire federal budget. Adding to the attraction is the reality that Medicare is often difficult to understand, complex and undergoing change, making it a playground for con artists.

Telephone and email scams focus on the upcoming changes to Medicare accounts. In 2018, Social Security numbers will be dropped from the cards and replaced with numbers unique to Medicare. Fraudulent emails and calls focus on this change by requesting verification of current Medicare numbers as part of this process. Medicare and Social Security do not use phone calls or email to communicate. Letters are sent for this purpose and contain secure contact information for inquiries. Any calls or emails requesting Medicare numbers are scams!

Mail scams involving Medicare are far less frequent due to cost and postal tracking.

A current scam comes via postcard from a medical equipment provider. Displaying the business name The Pain Center, the postcard advises the recipient of eligibility for "A Medicare or Insurance Covered Back or Knee Support.

The card requests telephone verification, provides numerous assurances, and displays a numeric code to use when calling. Also included is a deadline to make contact for this benefit.

A representative of the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation (DFR) notes that there are several "red herrings" on the postcard: The word "covered" implies a medical benefit but such a benefit can only be accessed when deemed necessary by a doctor or authorized service; the card threatens a fine or prison sentence for obstructing delivery; there is no return address on the card; and, the card posts a deadline for the benefit (medically necessary supplies do not carry deadlines).

DFR also notes that calling the telephone number on the card provides the scammer with your number to be used in future attempts.

All of this information is valuable to anyone with Medicare benefits but what does it have to do with younger readers?

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Awareness of these scams places additional eyes on the problem. The children and grandchildren of seniors can help protect boomers and their families. Be watchful and aware of mailings and pay attention in conversations involving medical services, particularly if the conversation involves free or covered medical services.

When dealing with suspected Medicare fraud, there are a few critical steps to take.

In all cases of suspected fraud, do not respond to any questions posed by callers, by email, or in the mail bearing promises of free services. Any answers you give adds to information scammers may already have and make you a target for future attempts.

Record all information, regardless of how unimportant it may seem: company or individual names; date/time of the contact; related phone numbers, addresses and web or email addresses. All of this information may assist in prosecuting criminals or thwarting scams.

Contact appropriate authorities who deal with Medicare Fraud: Medicare at www.medicare.gov or by calling 1-800- 633-4227. In addition, the Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP) in each state is empowered by the federal Department of Health and Human Services to assist with Medicare issues including fraud.

SMP maintains a national information resource at www.smprersource.org or you can contact your state SMP program at 800-892- 0890 in Massachusetts.

As with all forms of fraud, the results of Medicare fraud can be personally and financially devastating. The best defense for everyone is continuous education. AARP Fraud Watch provides literature and is available for hour-long presentations to community groups, clubs, businesses and religious organizations free of charge and without commercial solicitation.

We can also staff information tables at farmers markets, fairs, and similar gatherings.

For more information including a comprehensive list of resources, contact Elliott Greenblott, by email at egreenblott@aarp.org. Questions or concerns, contact me, egreenblott@aarp.org.

Elliott Greenblott is a coordinator for the AARP Fraud Watch Network and writes this biweekly column. If you suspect that you may be a victim of a computer-based scam, call the AARP Fraud Watch Network hotline at 877-908-3360 or the Massachusetts Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division at (617) 727-8400.


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