Beginning on Oct. 15 and running through Dec. 7, Open Enrollment for Medicare Part D and Medicare Advantage plans has always been prime time for fraudsters to steal money and identity theft-worthy information from beneficiaries.
But this year, scammers with a nose for news may sniff out even more unscrupulous opportunities than usual. Reasons:
- The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently announced it will begin mailing out new cards in April 2018 to replace those with the recipient’s Social Security numbers. Designed to help curb identity theft, these new cards will have a unique, randomly assigned 11-character Medicare Beneficiary Identifier (MBI) comprised of numbers and uppercase letters – and not your SSN. Along with that Sept. 12 announcement getting plenty of media attention, television ads have begun publicizing the new cards with the tagline “Guard Your Card.”
- Headlines-making hurricanes Harvey and Irma could play a role. In the past, following natural disasters scammers posing as Medicare and Medicaid employees have been known to call those living in impacted areas to falsely claim that new, weather-resistant “plastic covered” cards can (or must) be reissued.
- As efforts continue to repeal and replace Obamacare, so does confusion over the future of health insurance and Medicaid. (Confusion can be a fraudster’s best weapon.) And with growing talk of moving control of Medicaid funds to states, scammers may add another role to their imposter repertoire – that of self-described state health officials or middlemen navigating new insurance plans and initiatives.
Each scenario paves the way, even more than usual, for scammers to capitalize on the most common con: Phone calls, emails and front-door visits from self-described CMS employees who solicit sensitive information – including Social Security numbers – under the guise it’s needed to “verify our records” for a new card or not lose benefits. With the hurricane scams, fraudsters have also angled for $50 or so for the supposed plastic-encased replacement, requested via automatic withdrawal to gain access to recipients’ bank or credit card accounts.
Other scams already in the works, according to the Better Business Bureau, adding to the timeless trickery of classic Open Enrollment schemes:
- Bogus claims that Medicare and other health plans are issuing new cards – but they cost about $300.
- Phone calls that you’re entitled to a refund from last year’s premiums, coverage or drug costs – but the phony payback must be a direct-deposit, another way scammers can siphon bank and credit card accounts.
- Offers for “new,” “replacement” or “supplemental” coverage that may be fake or substandard – but require upfront payment.
What to know:
- You don’t need to do anything to get new Medicare MBI cards, issued beginning this Spring and continuing through April 2019.
- Official correspondence regarding Medicare, Medicaid, or private insurance is always mailed. Unless you initiate a phone call or write an email asking for a response, don’t expect to be contacted those ways – or with a front-door visit.
- Never provide personal information – including your birthdate, MBI or other insurance account information and especially SSN – unless you initiate contact. Unless coming by mailed letter you can authenticate, don’t fall for any request seeking it, including those supposedly from the Social Security Administration, Internal Revenue Service or other government agencies.
- Although new Medicare MBI cards won’t have SSNs, they still should be guarded to prevent medical identity theft. So only share your MBI with trusted healthcare providers and rather than routinely carrying that new card in your wallet, consider making a photocopy with some characters blackened out. This way, if your wallet is lost or stolen, your MBI is less likely to be used to medical care and prescriptions in your name.
For information about other scams, sign up for the Fraud Watch Network. You’ll receive free email alerts with tips and resources to help you spot and avoid identity theft and fraud, and keep tabs of scams and law enforcement alerts in your area at our Scam-Tracking Map.