The Medicare Annual Enrollment Period only lasts about eight weeks each year, but Medicare beneficiaries are the targets of phone scams and identity theft all year long.
Countless scam phone calls are reported nationwide each year, which is why it's so important to familiarize yourself with these cons and learn how to protect yourself and your loved ones.
Know The Rap
Fraudulent callers typically make up stories to try and obtain your name, Social Security number, Medicare number or credit card information. They can use this personal information to steal your identity or access your bank account.
Con men stick to similar stories. Here are a few of the typical tall tales that tricksters tell to convince you to give them your information:
- "Your new card is in the mail." One common scam is for someone to call and tell you that your new Medicare card has been mailed out to you and then ask for your checking account number so Medicare can deposit funds directly into your checking account.
- "Your card number has been updated." Other phone callers will ask you to verify your Medicare number, (which is also your social security number), so that you can be issued an "updated" Medicare card.
- "We're about to pay for medical supplies." Another variation of these scams is for the caller to say Medicare is ready to pay for medical supplies and then request your social security number for confirmation.
The fraudulent callers aren't always easy to identify, especially since they often already have some basic information including, for example, your first and last name and mailing address.
Some reports suggest these callers are very empathetic and knowledgeable, which makes them appear credible. In other cases, the callers reportedly speak in heavy, foreign accents and broken English, making them slightly easier to spot.
As Medicare's Fall Open Enrollment opens, you may increasingly receive information about new Medicare products. (Medicare's Annual Enrollment Period (AEP) is also sometimes referred to as the "Fall Open Enrollment" season and the "Open Enrollment Period for Medicare Advantage and Medicare prescription drug coverage.) It's important to properly prepare for Medicare Open Enrollment. Unfortunately, Medicare scams also tend to increase during Fall Open Enrollment.
Here are some important things to know to protect yourself and your bank account:
- Medicare generally won't call you. In the rare instance where they might call, they will never request sensitive information. It's important to remember that Medicare will never call or come to your home uninvited to sell Medicare products.
- Social Security representatives may call Medicare beneficiaries if they need more information to process their applications for Extra Help with Medicare prescription drug plan costs. Again, this is rare.
- If a phone call is needed, you'll receive an official letter to arrange a telephone interview. You will be asked to confirm the date of your telephone interview by returning an acknowledgement form to Social Security.
- Always make efforts to keep your Medicare card safe. Never carry your card around in your wallet. Instead, keep it in a safe and secure spot that you'll remember. If you must carry your Medicare card, make a copy and black out all but the last four digits with a marker.
- Medicare cards do not expire, so be wary of someone saying they need to send you a new one. If you lose your card, contact Medicare directly to report the missing card. If you ever question the validity of a phone call, say you'd like to call them back and then ask for the direct number. This will usually prompt them to hang up.
- Guard your personal information and contact Medicare if you have questions. A good rule of thumb is not to give out potentially sensitive information over the Internet, on the phone or to unsolicited strangers. However, if you join a Medicare Advantage or prescription drug plan over the phone, you may be asked to give this information to the plan. You may also be asked for this information if you use the Medicare Plan Finder.
- Only give personal information when needed to doctors, other health care providers and plans approved by Medicare and to people in the community who work with Medicare, such as your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) or Social Security.
- You may always contact the customer service number on the back of your Medicare card if you have any questions or concerns.
If you think you may have provided personal information to a fraudulent caller or if you have been the victim of identity theft, contact the Federal Trade Commission's ID Theft Hotline at 1-877-438-4338.
By taking the time to learn about potential scams and how to address concerns, you can protect your identity and your nest egg.
Ross Blair is the President and CEO of PlanPrescriber.com, a leading provider of comparison tools and educational materials for Medicare-related insurance products.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has neither reviewed nor endorsed the information provided by PlanPrescriber.