Medicare scam relies on gathering personal data

The 75-year-old south Everett woman sensed something was amiss nearly from the moment she answered the phone.

The man asked for her by her first and last names. He told her he was phoning from Washington, D.C., and that he wanted to send her a new insurance card to go with her Medicare card.

He asked if he had her correct address, reading it aloud.

Then he said he needed to know the name of her bank.

What he didn’t know is the woman had previously worked as a vice president at a local bank. She said she didn’t want her name disclosed because she worries about further contact from the man or his organization.

“I said, ‘I’m sorry, I won’t give you that information,’ ” she said. The caller promptly hung up.

“I’m not stupid,” she said. “There’s no way I’d give information on my bank account to anybody calling me on the phone.”

Jean Mathisen, program director of the fraud fighter call center for AARP Washington, said she has no doubts about what was going on.

“Clearly she was being targeted for fraud,” Mathisen said.

Unfortunately, attempted scams involving Medicare aren’t unusual and there are many ways they can be conducted.

Sometimes scammers offer a product for free, such as diabetes testing strips or motorized scooters, she said.

What they’re after is the person’s Medicare number, Mathisen said.

Even if the attempted fraud isn’t targeting the Medicare patient, scammers may be attempting to fraudulently bilk Medicare for services. Such fraudulent Medicare claims cost the government billions of dollars every year, she said.

Scammers are adept at preying on people’s fears, Mathisen said. One of the latest is to refer to the current political debates about possible cuts to Medicare or changes the callers say are occurring due to the Affordable Care Act, or the federal health care law.

“They say I’m with Medicare and there are changes in 2013 and I need you to answer some questions to continue with Medicare,” Mathisen said.

Sometimes they want access to financial information, she said. “They’ll ask for your Social Security number, which is your Medicare number.

“We’re asking people not to answer questions,” Mathisen said. “If someone calls on the phone and says they’re calling from Medicare, our advice is to say: I do not answer questions over the phone unless I initiate the call.”

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or salyer@heraldnet.com

Who to call

Anyone who thinks that they have been contacted about a possible Medicare scam can call the Senior Medicare Patrol, part of the state Insurance Commissioner’s Office, at 800-562-6900.

Examples of Medicare fraud

An elderly Montesano woman received a phone call from a man with an accent. He advised the woman that she needed a new medical card. He then confirmed her address with her, but did not refer to her by name. When he asked the woman for her bank account information to confirm he was speaking with the right person, she hung up. The man did not specify what type of medical card, just that she needed a new one, and once she received it, she could use it immediately.

For more than a year, emails have been circulating that claim that the federal health care law, called the Affordable Care Act, will cause Medicare premiums to skyrocket. If you receive this message, delete it.

Source: Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner.

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