With a little knowledge and extra caution, you can avoid becoming a victim of a new type of health insurance scam.
In recent months, some Americans received calls from scammers offering a national insurance card, according to AARP, the advocacy organization for older Americans. The caller claimed the card was in connection with the recently passed health care reform law (the Affordable Care Act), but no such card exists.
Some scams fraudulently use Medicare benefits to get the government to pay for drugs or medical services. Other health care scams may go after the victims’ financial assets, if the victims reveal their credit card numbers or bank account numbers. It is a type of identity theft.
Sometimes thieves steal insurance information and financial information by pretending to work for a government agency, hospital, doctors’ office, insurance company, health clinic or pharmacy.
The Senior Medicare Patrol, a program funded by the U.S. Administration on Aging to fight health care fraud, cited these examples of fraud:
• Scammers calling to offer a new Medicare card.
• A woman showing up in scrubs at a senior center in Nebraska, trying to get personal information from Medicare beneficiaries.
• Scammers at malls or grocery stores, offering free vitamins, groceries or health screenings, courtesy of Medicare, and asking for a copy of your Medicare card.
Even if your bank account and credit cards aren’t jeopardized, it still can be difficult and time-consuming to recover from medical identity theft. Having fraudulent or erroneous information in your medical records may lead to inappropriate or dangerous medical treatments.
Tips to protect yourself and your family against scams
Follow these eight tips to protect yourself against scams:
1. Never give your Social Security number, Medicare information, health insurance information, bank account numbers or credit card numbers to someone who calls you and asks for it.
2. Monitor your financial records, including bank statements, credit card statements, bills and the Explanation of Benefits from your insurer or Medicare. Shred these documents when they are no longer needed, and rip up the labels on prescription bottles before you throw them out.
3. Avoid calls or e-mails that offer you something free in exchange for your insurance information.
4. Report suspicious calls or e-mails to the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-FTC-HELP.
5. If you think you may have been victimized by a scam, report it to your local police, your bank and your credit card companies, which can put an alert on your accounts.
6. Put your phone number on the national Do Not Call list at 1-888-382-1222 or www.donotcall.gov.
7. Don’t carry your Medicare or health insurance card with you unless you need it.
8. If you decide to share your personal information online, look for a lock icon on the browser’s status bar or a URL that begins with “https”. The “S” stands for secure.
To detect insurance fraud, you can check your medical bills for anything suspicious, such as charges for something you didn’t get, billing for the same thing twice, or services that were not ordered by your doctor.
Research has shown that the aging process causes changes in the brain that might make senior citizens more vulnerable to financial scams. If an older family member may be experiencing cognitive decline, help him or her keep track of financial records and health care records, and look for possible signs of fraud or identity theft.
Joe Wehrle, president of the National Insurance Crime Bureau, said, "Insurance criminals do not discriminate. They will take money from any individual, or insurance company, or any local, state, or federal program lax enough to allow it. We must remain vigilant and flexible in order to win this fight."