Open enrollment season is here, the time of year when just about everyone can make changes to their health care coverage without the restrictions you’d face the rest of the year. And while you may feel confident about the process for making changes to your own healthcare, do you know who is particularly at risk to get scammed this time of year? Your parents.
The Federal Trade Commission told CNBC it received 2.4 million claims of fraud and identity theft in the first nine months of this year alone, and among them were almost 332,000 complaints about imposters claiming to be from government agencies. The FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network reports that Health & Human Services and Medicare is the second most frequent category of reported imposter scams (Social Security scams top the list).
The top contact method for government imposter scammers is the phone. Here are some tips for recognizing a bad actor.
How to spot a Medicare scammer
These scammers aren’t doing anything new, but tend to step up their game when the open enrollment period is on everyone’s minds. Here are a few of the tactics they might use:
- Someone calls claiming to be from Medicare, asking for your Social Security number—even the last four digits–or bank information to be able to provide a new Medicare card.
- Someone calls offering free medical equipment or services and asks you for your Medicare number.
- Someone calls claiming to have information about new policies or vague “updates” about Medicare.
“Recently there has been an uptick in calls from organizations that claim that the Medicare beneficiary’s own physician has recommended them for a free neck or back brace, or even a DNA genetic test,” Amy Nofziger, director of fraud victim support at AARP, said. “The unsuspecting victim gives out personal information such as their Medicare number to the criminal, who in turn charges Medicare tens of thousands of dollars for bogus medical testing and supplies.”
Nofziger recommends not answering the phone at all unless you know who’s calling. Instead, let it go to voicemail and then decide how to respond, if at all. It’s easy to get flustered in the moment during a phone call, and you can be sure that imposters know how to push your buttons to get what they want.
Speaking of answering the phone, the FTC warns consumers not to trust caller ID when the phone rings. As you might already be all too aware, scammers can finagle phone numbers and caller ID screens to say just about anything.
If you do answer the phone and the caller claims they’re with a government agency, don’t give out any information to someone who calls in reference to your Medicare coverage, Nofziger advised. She added that you should talk to your physician before using any medical product—don’t trust someone who calls you on the phone about a medical issue you may not even have.
How to file a scam complaint
The FTC asks that you file a complaint if you suspect a scammer called you. There’s a phone number for that (1-877-382-4357), but the FTC also has an online complaint assistant. For Medicare-related scams, you can choose “Rip-offs and imposter scams” from the column on the left and follow the prompts to indicate that you got a call from someone impersonating a government agency. Here’s what that website looks like:
While the FTC doesn’t respond to individual complaints, the information you provide can help the agency build a case against known scammers.
In addition, AARP offers a hotline (877-908-3360) for reporting suspicious calls if you think you’ve been targeted by a scammer.