In some of the phone calls, they pretend to be with Medicare or the Social Security Administration. In others, they say they’re with an official-sounding but nonexistent organization such as the National Medical Office. Or they may claim to be calling from a medical equipment company.
Whatever their alleged affiliation, their bogus story is the same: They tell you that they need to issue you a new Medicare card but in order to get it, you must first authenticate your identity—by providing personal information such as your Medicare number (which is your Social Security number), your birth date, or your credit card and bank account numbers.
Of course, it’s a lie—the latest attempt by scammers to exploit confusion over Congress’ recent passage of health care reform.
Another variation that’s cropped up in recent weeks: con men who phone Medicare recipients or go door-to-door warning that continued coverage requires purchase of a new Medicare health plan—from them. These scammers claim to be federal employees—sometimes they even say they’re from “ObamaCare.”
“They use fear, they use change as an opportunity to get to seniors,” says Rona McNally of the Missouri Senior Medicare Patrol, an advocacy group funded by the federal Administration on Aging.
Fear is also being used in the bogus calls that promise new Medicare cards.
“When people refuse to provide the requested information, a phony supervisor comes on the line to say that the information must be provided to remain enrolled in the Medicare program,” says West Virginia Attorney General Darrell V. McGraw Jr. “The thieves then use information collected to steal victims’ identities and remove funds from accounts through checks and electronic transactions.”
In West Virginia and other states, many people who receive these bogus calls report that their caller ID displayed the incoming number as 866-234-2255. When Scam Alert dialed that number, a recorded message said that “Medicare scammers are spoofing” it, meaning that the number was being electronically hijacked. The message said that anyone getting a call with that number popping up should file reports with their state attorney general’s office or the Federal Trade Commission.
That phone number has been used since last year in this scam and others.
Your best move should you get one of these calls requesting personal information?
“Hang up the phone immediately,” advises Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway, who has also issued an official warning about this phone scam. “Medicare or Social Security employees will not contact you via phone requesting this type of information. If you have any questions about the status of your Medicare or Social Security benefits, you can contact the agencies directly.”
Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling.