My mom got a call from an agent claiming he could handle her open enrollment and she would save $500 a year; he just needed her Medicare number and her credit card for a small handling fee of $9.99. My mom hung up. I’m sure this was a Medicare scam. Am I right? Is this common?
First off, congratulations to your mom for hanging up! It sure sounds like a good deal to get someone to sort through open enrollment documents and save you $500 while money is tight. But like the saying goes, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
Sadly, not even healthcare is sacred to scammers, and during the Medicare enrollment period the scammers are out in full force. Here are some scams to watch out for:
- A scammer identifies him or herself as a representative from a Medicare Advantage Plan and claims that Medicare owes you a refund. All they need to arrange for the refund is your date of birth, Social Security number, bank account and Medicare numbers.
- A “representative” from Medicare calls and offers to send you an updated Medicare card (e.g., a new one with barcodes) and needs you to verify your Medicare number. Some may even ask for your credit card number to cover the costs of the new card.
- The scam artist reports that they are from Medicare and they have determined that you are eligible for new diabetic meters or some other health care item. Then they ask for your Medicare number for verification so they can send it out to you.
- Callers may use the names of fictitious companies such as National Medical Office, Medicare National Office and National Medicare or they may claim they are calling from a state agency. Then they make their pitch for whatever scam they are using.
As in any profession, there are a few bad apples: your parents could also be exposed to insurance scams via an unscrupulous insurance agent who may be selling policies that are not in their best interest. The Centers for Medicaid and Medicare (CMS) has issued marketing guidelines that all agents must follow. Be wary of an agent that does any of the impermissible actions, as they may be conning you into a Medicare scam. An agent may not:
- Place cold calls. In other words, someone calls you out of the blue to sell a policy that you did not request.
- Make an unannounced visit or solicit door-to-door (even leaving pamphlets).
- Sell or pitch additional products beyond what the customer agreed to discuss. This is known as cross-selling.
- Ask for personal or professional referrals.
- Approach potential customers in common areas such as lobbies, parking lots or waiting rooms.
- Offer a gift or incentive to encourage someone to enroll or sign up.
- Provide or pay for dinner at a Medicare meeting.
Here are general tips to help consumers stay clear of Medicare and insurance scams:
- Don’t give out your Medicare and Social Security numbers, credit card and banking account numbers and your birth date.
- If anyone calls you and says they are from Medicare, simply hang up. No one from Medicare will ever call you.
- Unsolicited calls related to health insurance or Medicare are almost always a scam. If you didn’t call them first, then don’t talk to them.
- Review your Medicare bills to make sure someone hasn’t stolen your number. If there are charges or claims on it that aren’t related to you, call Medicare to let them know (1.800.633.4277).
To help you sort through the legitimate Medicare plans available during this enrollment season, call Medicare at 1.800.633.4227 and ask for” Agent” at the menu prompt or go to medicare.gov
and go to “Compare Drug and Health Plans.” Every state has a State Health Insurance Program of volunteers who can help older people sort through Medicare and insurance plans. Call Eldercare Locator at 1.800.677.1116 to find the number for your state’s program.