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New Health Benefits Scam

Con artists say the Affordable Care Act mandates a government-issued insurance card. It doesn't

A new government-issued health insurance card is coming in the mail? Don’t believe it.

Read the latest AARP Scam Alerts

It’s scammers — once again — posing as federal employees, trying to get your personal and financial details for suspected identity theft. And this time, the card up their sleeve is one they promise is en route to you.

In recent weeks, consumers nationwide have been getting phonecalls claiming they are among the first Americans selected to receive health insurance cards as part of the Affordable Care Act.

But before the cards can be mailed, the phony federal workers request personal data, including bank account numbers. Truth: There are no insurance cards associated with the Affordable Care Act.

Another current scam replays a familiar theme: promising that new Medicare cards are being mailed out. This time, fraudsters claim that in order to continue receiving benefits, you must provide your bank account and routing number for a direct-deposit of entitled reimbursements. That claim is also a lie: No new Medicare cards are being mailed out.

Although Social Security payments are made by direct-deposit — and March 1 was the deadline to switch to such electronic payments (if you didn't, the Treasury will contact you soon) — Medicare has no such direct-deposit program. And new Medicare cards are not being mailed out.

These are the latest examples of an ongoing theme: scammers pose as representatives of government agencies to collect sensitive information from retirement-aged Americans.

In 2012, nearly 83,000 complaints were filed with the Federal Trade Commission about such so-called “imposter scams” – roughly 12 percent more than in the previous year. (If you get such bogus notifications — by phone, email or front-door visit — notify the FTC by calling 877-382-4357 or filling out this online form.

Your age, their advantage

Why are older Americans so often the targets of these scams? Before blaming the popular notion that they are "more trusting," consider this: Some studies show that older folks are better at detecting lies than younger people.

Scammers also know that whenever there’s a change or even discussion about possible changes in government programs or policy, the time is ripe to capitalize on consumers’ uncertainty by trying to get them to reveal personal information.

"From there, it’s not much of a leap to identity theft," notes the FTC's Jennifer Leach. They then can drain bank accounts, open fraudulent credit accounts, or rack up bogus charges on existing credit cards. With health care entitlements in the news, officials expect to see such imposter scams continue — if not further proliferate

Don't fall for these cons

Here are four things to know to help keep you safe:

  • Government agencies already have your personal information on file. Unless you initiate contact, you will never be asked to provide or verify that data.

  • Don't be fooled if your Caller ID screen indicates that a call is from an agency you recognize. Scammers have technology that lets them display any number or organization name on your screen.

  • Government agencies do not send unsolicited emails. Official correspondence is typically delivered by U.S. mail. If you get such a letter, you can authenticate it by looking up the agency's phone number yourself in a directory and calling the agency.

  • Don't expect government employees to make unannounced door-to-door visits about new or revised programs. You'll typically receive advance notification of any official knock on your door, and your personal information will already be known to legitimate federal employees.

Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling. He writes the Scam Alert column for AARP.