Scammers are hurrying to beat a new identity theft protection measure

If someone called you on the phone and asked for your social security number, your address, and the correct spelling of your name, would you provide the information? It may be hard to believe, but scammers figure Medicare recipients can be tricked into doing so with their latest telephone scam. But they have to hurry.

That’s because a person’s Medicare number happens to be the same as their social security number. However, that’s about to change with the rollout of a new, more secure Medicare number system to help protect against identity theft.

New measures to protect against scammers

Starting in April of this year, the federal government will begin replacing existing Medicare numbers with new, 11-character ID numbers based on a randomly generated combination of digits and letters. Because they won’t expose personally identifiable information, such as the social security number, the new ID numbers should be more secure against identity theft.

While distribution of the new Medicare cards will begin in April, it could take a year or longer to complete. Here’s what scammers are doing to exploit the system during this transition period.
The crooks are calling recipients and claiming to be from Medicare. They say they need to verify the recipient’s Medicare number and other information before they can mail out the new card. Those who fall for the ruse end up giving the caller critical information that sets them up for identity theft or other fraud.

Lies that scammers tell the elderly

In some cases, the caller says there is a fee that needs to be paid before the new card can be mailed.

That is not true.

Another version of the scam claims the new card comes with a one-time rebate of a portion of their Medicare drug plan premium. But, the caller says, for security purposes, that refund must be delivered by direct bank deposit. So they request bank account information.

That too, is not true.

If you know someone who is on Medicare, perhaps a parent or relative, s/he needs to be alerted to this Medicare scam and the identity theft danger it poses.

Here are the facts

1. Medicare will not call you and ask for your Medicare number.
2. All communication from Medicare about the new card and number will come by mail.
3. There is no fee for the new card.
4. The new card does not come with any kind of premium rebate.

You might wonder how these crooks get the names and phone numbers of actual Medicare recipients. It turns out that many seniors willingly give the scammers a helping hand.

I had an “aha!” moment about this recently while watching a rerun of a 1970’s sitcom on my digital video recorder. As I fast-forwarded through the commercials, I spotted something that made me rewind and look more closely. It was a commercial for back and knee braces that would be free to the consumer, paid for by Medicare.

It caught my eye because some of my volunteer time goes to an organization, the California Senior Medicare Patrol, that works to educate consumers about healthcare fraud.

Agreeing to receive robocalls from scammers?

The commercial is relevant to this story because of the fine-print disclaimer that ran for just a few seconds – not enough time to read without freezing the image – at the end of the commercial. But because it was on my DVR, I did freeze it. Here’s what it said (I’ve redacted the company name):

By calling in, I confirm that this will serve as my signature authority for COMPANY and their customers to call me on my telephone at the number provided. I am aware of my rights to protect my privacy and these rights are waived for the purpose of COMPANY and their customers to call me. I consent to receive information on products not limited to spinal support braces and/or knee braces on this phone call or subsequent phone calls … I am permitting calls to be automatically dialed. … If I am on a do not call list, by opting in, I am waiving this right.

So it says, in effect, that by calling that toll-free number you are giving them permission to sell your information to any and all of their customers so they can call you as often as they want for any product they’re hawking. You are also agreeing to be the recipient of robocalls.

The bottom line

This particular company is not the only one in this business. I found several other companies that produce such commercials with similar wording in their disclaimers. They provide those names and phone numbers to their customers — who might be honest companies or scammers. There are no guarantees as to how those customers treat that information. What’s even more concerning is that we don’t know how many times the prospect list will be resold or to whom.

Even if those Medicare customer lists don’t find their way to telemarketing scammers, those “free” medical devices aren’t really free. As I pointed out in an article last year, fraud, waste and abuse cost the Medicare system about $60 billion every year.

When I give presentations to groups of seniors, I tell them that if anyone calls and asks for their Medicare number to assume it’s a scam and hang up. The rollout of the new Medicare cards should be a good thing in the long run. But in the near term, it provides another opportunity for phone scammers. Don’t help them out. Never give them your critical information.

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