IN YOUR PRIME: Beware of Medicare scams during open enrollment

Protect personal information from Medicare fraudsters, report scam phone calls

Medicare’s open enrollment period is just around the corner, and scammers are ready.

Each year they are after the same thing: Personal data like Medicare numbers and bank account information. The tactics the fraudsters use, however, can change from year to year, said Chris Reeg, director of the Ohio Senior Health Insurance Information Program.

“Scammers thrive on changes,” she said. “They thrive on anything that might confuse the Medicare population and target that.”

OSHIIP has offered free Medicare information since 1992. The Ohio Department of Insurance program has provided one-on-one counseling to nearly 150,000 consumers in the last year, and more than 350,000 attended public education events. A toll-free hotline also assists Medicare patients and others navigating the process.

When open enrollment begins, Reeg expects an influx of robocalls, text messages and emails that try to get beneficiaries to reveal their personal information. Mailboxes are flooded with marketing materials, and television commercials are nonstop, she added.

Although individuals should watch for fraud, Reeg also cautions people to beware of deeds that are lawful but perhaps not in their best interest.

“There’s a lot of activity that is legal that can lead Medicare beneficiaries down a very bad path,” Reeg said.

Television advertisements may look official, and they may even appear to prompt viewers to call what appears to be a government agency, Reeg warned. However, many of the commercials are for lead agencies that attempt to get viewers to call them first and then pass their information to agents and brokers who are often in other states.

“Once you make that phone call, you have made that first contact and you’re basically signing yourself up for robocalls for the rest of your life,” she said.

Keep material like Social Security numbers, credit card numbers and banking information private. Beneficiaries also received a personal 11-digit Medicare number within the last few years that should stay private.

“Those numbers really haven’t made it into the hands of scammers yet, so let’s keep it that way,” Reeg said.

Scammers may even identify themselves as representatives of Medicare or Social Security. But unless a beneficiary has already initiated a claim, they shouldn’t be calling, Reeg said.

“The minute you hear that, you don’t even enter into a conversation. You hang up,” said Connie Blum, OSHIIP’s Montgomery County coordinator.

When Blum calls a client, she is careful to say she is from OSHIIP and not from Medicare.

In the past, Blum has received calls that wanted information purportedly in order to verify the shipment of medical equipment that she never ordered. She hung up, but the callers would falsely tell anyone who responded that Medicare was paying for it, she said.

If she receives a call from a suspected scammer, Blum won’t provide her name or verify or refute any information.

“Just don’t talk to them,” said Blum, who has been an OSHIIP volunteer for 24 years.

Unsure if an agent is legitimate? The Ohio Department of Insurance licenses agents within Ohio and can verify the licensure, Reeg said. OSHIIP itself can reached at 800-686-1578 and is an objective source of Medicare information that doesn’t promote any one company, agent, product or plan.

Those who do fall victim to a Medicare scam can report it by calling 1-800-MEDICARE or OSHIIP.

“Protect yourself, but do report it,” Reeg said.

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