Today, it seems like there are scams taking place in just about every industry that you can imagine – and unfortunately, Medicare and Social Security aren’t immune. In fact, because many criminals take advantage of seniors who may be more vulnerable with their finances, these two programs tend to rank near the top of the list.
Criminals will often target the Medicare program itself with any number of fraudulent schemes. This is because these scammers generally feel that this government program has “deep pockets,” which could make the criminals’ efforts more than worthwhile.
But the scams don’t stop there. Medicare (and Social Security) enrollees are also oftentimes the victims of unscrupulous activities – and because of that, seniors have to be particularly careful when discussing benefits, premiums, claims, and medical procedures with anyone who may not be who they say they are.
Over the years, as our modes of communication have expanded, it can be much more convenient to keep up with loved ones, both near and far. Unfortunately, though, more ways to get in touch with each other also provides scammers with additional avenues for trying to take your money, steal your personal identification…or both.
If you’re age 65 or over, then it is likely that you receive several calls each and every week – or even every day – from someone who is offering you some type of product or service. Some of these are perfectly legitimate. Others, however, are not.
The key to protecting yourself here is to determine which is which – and regardless of how “real” the caller’s pitch may be, they could still be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. So, how can you tell the difference?
One of the best ways to do so is to ask the caller if you can hang up and then call them right back. Once you have hung up the phone, look up the information about the company they are supposedly contacting you from and dial the number that is given on their website or in the phone directory.
If you can’t find any information about the caller or their company, then it’s a pretty sure bet that they are not legitimate, and that you’ve likely saved yourself time and money by cutting the call short.
If the caller states that he or she is calling you from Medicare specifically, there are several different options that you can take. One is to hang up and call Medicare back directly at (800) 633-4227 so that you can inquire about the caller’s validity. Or alternatively, you can go to the Senior Medicare Patrol online at www.smpresource.org.
You can also visit the Medicare website, where you will find a wide array of tips and resources about Medicare related fraud and what you can do in order to help protect yourself. Additional information about this can be found by visiting Medicare’s website directly at: https://www.medicare.gov/forms-help-resources/help-fight-medicare-fraud.
In some cases, criminals will try to convince you that you’ve won a contest or that Medicare is going to pay you a fee simply for participating in a questionnaire or survey. But, while this would be nice, it’s usually not the truth.
If you do end up in a lengthy conversation with a caller, be sure to ask them a lot of questions about whatever it is that they are offering. And, if the caller becomes too demanding or high pressure – or worse yet, if they become threatening – this too could be a cue that they are really just after your money and / or your information.
If this is the case, as hard as it may be to stand your ground, make sure that you end the call quickly and hang up the phone – and do not provide the caller with any information regarding your Medicare ID number, your Social Security number, your bank account number, or any other form of personal details.
In protecting yourself from a potential scam, it can also be beneficial to know the preferred mode(s) of communication that certain organizations use. For instance, if a caller states that he or she is from the IRS (Internal Revenue Service), this is definitely a scam. That is because the IRS does not make phone calls, but rather this entity communicates through the U.S. mail.
If a call comes in over your land line or your cell phone, one of the best – and easiest – ways that you can defend yourself is to just simply not answer it. Even if your caller ID shows that a call coming in is from a local number, chances are – unless it’s from a legitimate person or organization – it could actually be originating from anywhere in the country, or even from anywhere in the world.
That’s because scammers will often make use of a technique that is referred to as number spoofing. In doing so, they can make it appear that a phone call is coming in from a local company or organization – when in reality, it could be originating from anywhere.
Scammers can even take this phone number spoofing trick one step further by changing the number that the call appears to be coming from each time they contact you. That way, it’s more likely that victims will answer, thinking that it is a call from a different originator.
If you have fallen victim to a Social Security or Medicare related scam – or even if you have run across a scammer who has tried to take your money or your personal information – there are some avenues you can take. Some of these can help you to protect yourself, as well as to warn others who could also become future victims.
One option is to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and / or the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The Federal Trade Commission takes complaints in a number of different areas, including:
You can start the process of filing a claim with the Federal Trade Commission by going to the Complaint Assistant page of the FTC’s website at: https://www.ftccomplaintassist.gov.
Likewise, you can file a complaint and / or a public comment through the Federal Communications Commission by going to https://www.fcc.gov, and then clicking on the For Consumers tab at the far right.
From there, you can tell the organization what happened, as well as share your story with others, which can in turn, help with both current and future fraud enforcement activities. You can also check the status of a complaint that you have previously made by clicking on the Check Status tab.
For Medicare fraud specifically, you can report an incident by calling Medicare directly, toll-free, at (800) 633-4227, or by contacting the Office of the Inspector General, also toll-free, at (800) 447-8477.
Likewise, you can report Medicare fraud online at the website of the Office of the Inspector General at: https://forms.oig.hhs.gov/hotlineoperations/report-fraud-form.aspx?AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1.
All of the complaints that are received by the Inspector General hotline are treated confidentially, and they are shared only within the Office of the Inspector General itself, for the purpose of evaluating them. If, however, you would prefer to submit a complaint anonymously, you also have the option to do so.
(Note that filing a complaint regarding Medicare fraud as versus filing a complaint or a grievance about the Medicare program or Medicare benefits are two different areas. If you have concerns about the quality of care you’ve received, and / or a complaint regarding a health care provider such as a doctor or a hospital, and / or about your Medicare benefits, you can file a complaint through Medicare by going to: https://www.medicare.gov/claims-appeals/how-to-file-a-complaint-grievance.)
Social Security also offers a way to report possible fraud. The Social Security program has a toll-free Fraud Hotline that is open between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.
Likewise, you can report this type of fraud to the representatives on the SSA’s (Social Security Administration) toll-free information line at (800) 772-1213. Alternatively, you can report Social Security fraud directly in person or by contacting any local Social Security Administration office.
There are still other ways to file Medicare and Social Security fraud related complaints, as well as to warn others about these types of activities. For instance, AARP has a Fraud Watch Network that staffs volunteers who are trained in fraud counseling. You can learn more about AARP’s Fraud Watch Network by visiting: www.aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork, or by contacting AARP by phone at (877) 908-3360.
Even if you’re not 100% sure whether or not you have been the victim of a Social Security or Medicare scam, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. By contacting one (or more) of the organizations listed above, you will be in a better position to take the steps that are necessary to protect yourself.
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Author Bio: Ben started Prepare for Medicare in 2014 to help people help people get objective answers to questions about Medicare. He’s held leadership roles at numerous Fortune 500 Medicare health insurers in product development, sales, marketing and strategy for over 20 years.