8 Ways to Keep Scammers at Bay
- If you're on Medicare, you don't need a new card or additional insurance because of health exchanges or other Obamacare initiatives.
- You can change your Medicare plan and prescription coverage during Medicare open enrollment from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7, but no one from Medicare — or any other federal office — will make unsolicited contact via telephone, email, fax or front-door visit asking for money or personal or financial information, including your Social Security/Medicare number.
- If you get health insurance at work, your employer should notify you — via official workplace correspondence — on what if any changes may occur. People with private insurance should contact their providers if they have questions. Get more information at this AARP Web page about how you may be affected.
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- The Health Insurance Marketplace doesn't open until Oct. 1, and no offers for health care plans from it can legally be made before then. But even after that date, keep up your guard. It's expected that most folks needing insurance will shop on the federal or state websites, but legitimate vendors — along with scammers — may reach out to you via phone, email, personal visits and especially websites. To help answer questions about plans you may consider, as well as vendor and product legitimacy, you can contact trained "navigators" at the federal government's hotline, 800-318-2596 (TTY 855-889-3425) or visit healthcare.gov. Do this before you provide sensitive details or sign anything.
- Because 17 states have opted out of the federal program, scammers may create websites intended to look like official sites for those 17. In addition to seeking personal information and money, the fake sites may host computer malware that will automatically download onto your computer if you click on a link. One clue to legitimacy: State websites should end in ".gov," as does the federal marketplace website, healthcare.gov.
- Although some states have enlisted advertisers and translators to help educate residents about new benefits for the uninsured, their role is strictly to educate consumers — not to sell policies.
- Scare or rush tactics signal you're dealing with a scammer. Preapproved rates in the exchange won't change during the initial enrollment period, which ends on March 31, 2014. Claims of "limited-time offers" and "act now or lose benefits" are lies.
- Now is a particularly opportune time for scammers to go after your medical records, called "fulls" in scammer jargon because they provide everything in one place for ID theft — and more. Fetching as much as 50 times the rate of a Social Security number on online black markets, stolen medical records open the way for scammers to pose as you and to buy medications or to pay for medical treatments. Believe it or not, victims may be responsible for these charges (unlike in the case of credit card theft) and may lose their coverage. So guard details of your medical history, treatments or insurance — no matter what you're being offered in return.
Sid Kirchheimer, author of Scam-Proof Your Life, covers consumer and health issues for AARP Media.
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