Warning: Medicare Open Enrollment is Hunting Season for Scammers
We’re coming down to the wire on this year’s open enrollment period for Medicare, which runs through December 15th. This is the season when millions of new and existing beneficiaries are sifting through mountains of direct mail brochures and a noisy gaggle of radio ads in an effort to make a prudent decision about health coverage for the year ahead. Unfortunately, according to this article that appeared last week on the national website Time.com/Money, this is also the season when scam artists are out in full force trying to rob seniors of their money by stealing their private information.
During this busy and confusing evaluation period, warns the Federal Trade Commission, “keep a careful eye out for scams.” In the words of the article, it’s precisely that high level of confusion surrounding Medicare rules that makes some seniors so susceptible to fraud. “Criminals will always use current events to confuse and victimize unsuspecting consumers, and this applies to the Medicare open enrollment period,” says Amy Nofziger of the AARP Foundation. “And,” the Time article adds, “being on guard for this type of fraud may be more important this year than in years past, as the number of scams is likely on the rise.”
Ironically, there’s actually some positive news that helps make this year such a ripe season for frauds and scams: according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the government is preparing to issue new Medicare cards, at long last dropping Social Security numbers in favor of “a unique, randomly assigned 11-character Medicare Beneficiary Identifier.” The new cards, which are meant to curb identity theft, will be shipped beginning in April 2018. According to the AARP, “savvy scammers may try to use this news as a tactic” by contacting beneficiaries and claiming that Medicare (or any other health provider) is requiring people to pay for the new cards. “There’s no cost for the new card and you don’t need to take any action to receive a new card,” says the Time article emphatically. “Additionally,” it adds, “Medicare says that it will never ask you to provide any personal or private information to get your new card.”
Apart from the “new card” scam, there are a few other tried and true frauds that keep popping up on the FTC’s radar. Make sure you watch out for these bogus claims, and if you are involved in the life of a senior loved one or friend, watch out for their sake, too.
- What if someone contacts you claiming to be an “Official Medicare Agent”? This is a fraud, pure and simple, says the Federal Trade Commission, because there is no such thing. “Anyone who tries to sell you insurance while claiming to be an official rep is a fraudster, since the agency doesn’t employ any official sales reps,” Time
- What if someone tells you that you have to buy Required Prescription Coverage? This is also a fraudulent claim, because Medicare Part D (prescription drug coverage) is voluntary. “It’s an automatic red flag if someone contacts you and requires you to join a prescription plan in order to keep your Medicare benefits,” says the Time
- What if you get a personal call or visit from a Medicare official? “Medicare does not operate this way,” says the AARP’s Nofziger. Adds the Time story, “Official correspondence is always mailed unless you initiate a phone call or send an email asking for a response,” adding that “no one is important enough to merit an unsolicited door-to-door service or even a phone call from Medicare or Medicaid regarding their insurance.” This means that, no matter who a caller claims to be, you should never give out personal information over the phone. “Medicare will never call you and ask for personal information such as Social Security number, bank account or routing information or credit card numbers.”
- What if you get a call promising you a refund on your premiums? “Everyone likes a refund,” says the Time article, “but don’t fall for a scam in an attempt to claim your cash.” Scammers commonly claim that beneficiaries are entitled to refunds due to policy changes or enhancements, but all they really want is your personal information. “If you really are owed money, Medicare will send you a check directly—there’s no need to prove anything or provide any information like your Social Security number,” Time
So be wary of any caller claiming to represent Medicare, and never give out private, personal information by phone. Remember, if you need help making your insurance decisions we urge you to get some solid advice. (We at AgingOptions can answer many of your questions and we’ll gladly refer you to trusted experts who will spend time reviewing your individual circumstances.) When it comes to planning for all aspects of retirement, solid advice is our specialty. You’ll find that the AgingOptions approach to retirement planning is completely unlike the disjointed strategy employed by so many others. Instead of treating finances, legal affairs, medical protection and housing choices as completely separate elements, our LifePlanning approach weaves all these together and even incorporates a plan to involve and engage your family so that your wishes will be honored and supported. For comprehensive retirement planning, there’s no plan like an AgingOptions LifePlan.
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(originally reported at www.time.com/money)