Scams heat up during Medicare open enrollment

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Medicare
TAIMY ALVAREZ/SOUTH FLORIDA SUN SENTINEL/TNS
Nancy Kostyo, right, a SHINE (Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elders) Program counselor, helps a Medicare beneficiary review his current benefits during open enrollment at SW Focal Point in Pembroke Pines on Oct. 22.

BY SUSAN TOMPOR
DETROIT FREE PRESS/TNS

Medicare open enrollment is ongoing and ends Dec. 7. And you better believe the scammers know it. 

Maybe it’s someone making a call, claiming to be from your insurance company and demanding information on the spot. Some scammers say you’ll need to buy a gift card or wire money soon so that you won’t lose your health care benefits. Others are trying to get your Social Security number or other information to use in identity fraud. 

Locally, consumers have been reporting fast-talking, door-to-door sales pitches for signing up for Medicare Advantage Plans. 

“One gentleman signed up for a plan through a high-pressure insurance agent and as a result he would have lost his Medigap coverage,” said Jenny Jarvis, chief communications and strategy officer for the Area Agency on Aging 1-B in Southfield, Michigan. 

Medicare
CENTERS FOR MEDICARE & MEDICAID SERVICES/TNS
The new Medicare card, shown here, does not contain your Social Security number. The makeover is to fight identity theft.

Preying on seniors 

Fortunately, after talking with counselors at the agency, he was able to switch his coverage back to a Medicare Part D plan and he retained his Medigap plan since it was still in the open enrollment window. 

The open enrollment window is ripe for scam artists, Jarvis warns, as scammers often claim to be private companies that offer Medicare to eligible seniors. 

This month, many Medicare recipients are reviewing whether they want to change their Medicare Advantage and Part D prescription drug plans. 

“Usually, if you keep your plan, you do nothing,” Jarvis said. 

Two options 

She noted that consumers face two options when you sign up for Medicare. 

“One option is keeping traditional Medicare, which covers Part A and Part B,” she said. 

“Then you can purchase a stand alone Medicare Part D plan for prescription coverage and you can also choose to purchase a Medigap plan which helps cover co-pays and deductibles associated with Medicare Part A and Part B.”

“The second option is to choose a Medicare Advantage Plan which is coverage through a private insurance company that provides your Part A, Part B and prescription coverage. If you have a Medicare Advantage Plan, you cannot also have a Medigap plan.” 

“For many seniors just understanding the complexity of the choices and how they can impact current coverage can be very confusing,” she said. 

‘Hang up’ 

The very last thing you should do, of course, is hand over your Medicare card information — or credit card number — over the phone to someone who is pressuring you to act now. Don’t respond to a cold call out of the blue relating to Medicare, as those aren’t even allowed. 

Jarvis suggests: “When in doubt, hang up.” 

Signs of a scam include someone who calls and claims to be able to “help you” sign up for coverage or demands to “confirm billing information” so that you don’t lose coverage. 

Remember, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Social Security Administration will not call you and claim that you must update your information. 

Back brace scam 

Other warnings about scams include: 

Watch out for the old back brace scam. 

Con artists are back in action and calling seniors covered by Medicare with all sorts of deals on “free or low cost” back braces, knee braces and other medical equipment. 

No one from Medicare, of course, is making such calls. It’s only a scam that’s designed to get your Medicare information, according to a recent alert by the Federal Trade Commission. 

“If you give them your information, they’ll use it to fraudulently bill Medicare for braces and other medical equipment,” the FTC warns. 

Such a move can hurt you because you’d use up some medical benefits and might not be able to get the appropriate equipment, if your doctor later prescribes it.

Social Security calls 

Never give your Medicare or personal information over the phone to someone who calls asking for it. Check your Medicare Summary Notice to make sure you’re only being charged for services you really got. Don’t fall for paying for things that you didn’t order.

Beware of calls from Social Security. Consumers are seeing a sizable uptick in callers from impostors claiming to be Social Security Administration agents. 

Social Security-related calls are now the “go-to” for phone scams after skyrocketing in the first six months of 2019, according to BeenVerified’s Spam Call Complaint Monitor. 

23-fold increase

The scam unseats calls from fake IRS agents, which had been the No. 1 source of complaints during the previous three years, according to the nationwide analysis of more than 200,000 spam call reports. 

Spam and robocalls from fraudsters claiming to be from the Social Security Administration accounted for nearly 10% of user complaint comments during the first six months of this year.

That’s a more than 23-fold increase compared to the first half of 2018, according to BeenVerified, which provides services like reverse call look-up to search who called or texted you. 

Site for tips 

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) also has a specific site for Social Security scams: identitytheft.gov/ssa.

The site has tips for what to do if you gave your Social Security number to a caller and now are worried about identity theft. 

One such tip: Consider placing a free credit freeze on your credit file to restrict access to your credit report and make it more difficult for identity thieves to open credit in your name.

The FTC site also gives you a spot for reporting Social Security-related robocalls.

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