Robocall scams can often seem random, but that's not always the case. Sometimes they are highly targeted - as with older Americans whose Medicare eligibility opens the door to health insurance fraud.
In an effort to combat such scams, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services last year began issuing cards using unique Medicare Beneficiary Identifier numbers in place of cardholders' Social Security Numbers. With the change under way, many federal agencies, including the FCC, alerted consumers to beware of identity thieves trying to steal new Medicare card numbers during the transition period, which runs through December 2019.
Here's what you can do to protect yourself.
Bad actors may spoof your caller ID number so that an incoming call seems to be from a government agency or a health provider that you already know and trust. They do this to entice you to answer.
When you pick up, a scam caller usually starts chatting you up to engage you, asking you conversational questions to put you at ease. Then a scam caller may say something like: "We need you to confirm the numbers on your new Medicare card to activate it" or "your new Medicare card has an error and we need to replace it" or "you were sent the old paper version and there's a new plastic version." Whatever the scam scenario, they're after your personal information, including your new Medicare card number and possibly your Social Security Number.
- Medicare will never call you uninvited and ask you for personal or private information.
- You will usually get a written statement in the mail before you get a phone call from a government agency.
- Calls requesting health insurance information should not be trusted.
- There are no "plastic" Medicare cards.
Be vigilant. Scammers can be very convincing, and they may know a little – or a lot – about you, especially if they have access to some of your personal information already. Follow these simple tips to avoid spoofing scams:
- Don't answer calls from unknown numbers.
- If you answer and the caller isn't who you expected, hang up immediately.
- Never give out personal information such as account numbers, Social Security numbers, mother's maiden names, passwords or any other self-identifying response to an unexpected call.
- Use caution if you are being pressured for information immediately.
- If a caller claims to represent a health insurance provider or a government agency, simply hang up. You can then call back using a phone number on an account statement, in the phone book, or on an official website to verify the caller's authenticity.
"Medicare & You: Preventing Medicare Fraud," a video from the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services, advises you to "hang up the phone if someone calls and asks for your Medicare number." It also urges you to guard your Medicare number like you would your credit card numbers.
If someone asks you for your information, for money, or threatens to cancel your health benefits if you don't share your personal details, hang up and call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) or visit www.medicare.gov/fraud.
You can also file consumer complaints about phone scams with the FCC or the FTC. Read the FCC Complaint Center FAQ to learn more about the FCC's informal complaint process, including how to file a complaint, and what happens after a complaint is filed.
* The FCC does not endorse any commercial product or service.