En español |With the coming rollout of a major aspect of the Affordable Care Act, the time is ripe for another onslaught of scammers trying to grab your money, personal information and medical records.
Ever since the ACA — better known as Obamacare — was passed by Congress in 2010, there have been periodic waves of cons tied to health reform. These include the sale of bogus insurance policies, and phone calls demanding sensitive personal information ("Could you please verify your identity?") if you're to receive a nonexistent Obamacare card or new Medicare card.
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But now experts are predicting a tsunami of schemes tied to the Oct. 1 launch of a program that will allow millions of uninsured Americans to shop for coverage through either state-run health insurance exchanges or the federal government.
Confusion over the Affordable Care Act will certainly help the con artists. Roughly half of people recently surveyed in a Kaiser Health Tracking Poll knew "nothing at all" about their state's plans to create an exchange, and two-thirds of uninsured Americans didn't understand how the new law affects them. About a fifth thought it had been repealed by Congress or overturned by the Supreme Court.
Already, scammers have established fake websites claiming to sell ACA insurance. Others have renewed tried-and-true government impostor scams — delivered via phone call, fax and email — in which they claim to represent Medicare or other government agencies, sometimes just saying they're "calling from Obamacare." The goal is to glean sensitive information for identity theft while pitching phony health plan enrollments.
And brace yourself for scamming Obamacare robocalls. Lois Greisman, an official with the Federal Trade Commission who oversees the national Do Not Call List, predicts they'll be a leading dinnertime annoyance in coming weeks — and possibly through 2014.
Don't fall for their ruse.
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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