How to Avoid Obamacare Scams
Protect yourself from these five ways fraudsters are using misinformation about the Affordable Care Act to take advantage of you.
I received an e-mail telling me I need to buy a health insurance card that shows I have coverage under Obamacare or I will have to pay a penalty. The e-mail looked legitimate, but it asked for my credit card number. Is it a scam?
Yes, it’s a scam -- and a growing one, too. Even though the Affordable Care Act requires people to have health insurance in 2014 or pay a penalty, there is no special card they need to buy. This is just one of the many ways that crooks are trying to take advantage of misconceptions and misinformation about the upcoming changes so that they can get your credit card number, bank-account information or cash (see Get Ready for Obamacare for details about the new law’s requirements).
In May, the Federal Trade Commission received more than 1,100 complaints about impostors claiming to be from Medicare and calling consumers to ask for personal or financial information -- often telling them that they are required to provide the information because of Obamacare. The FTC has also received 200 complaints about other Affordable Care Act–related scams over the past three years. “ACA scams are a top priority for the FTC, and we expect to receive more consumer complaints about them when the health insurance exchanges get started,” says Frank Dorman, of the FTC Office of Public Affairs. Local organizations are hearing from a lot of people, too: The California Senior Medicare Patrol receives calls almost daily about potential scams.
Here are four more scams to watch out for.
The Medicare-card scam.Even though the health care law will make few changes to Medicare in 2014, other than the continued shrinking of the prescription-drug doughnut hole (see Changes in Medicare for 2014), scam artists are invoking the word “Obamacare” as a ploy to steal personal and financial information. They’re all after the same thing -- to rip you off -- but the approaches they use may differ slightly. For instance, a woman in San Diego recently received a call from a person claiming to be from Medicare who said she needed a new Medicare card because of Obamacare and asked for her personal information and checking-account number (he already had her name and address). Another woman in Orange County received a call from someone claiming to be from Medicare who said she needed a new card and told her she needed to provide personal and banking information to verify she is a legal citizen before it could be sent to her. In both cases, the women were told that their Medicare benefits would stop if they didn’t provide the information. Both women were suspicious and contacted the California Senior Medicare Patrol before providing their banking information.
“So many people are getting these scam calls, and they don’t know if the calls are legitimate or not, but they’re afraid they’ll lose their benefits if they don’t give the information,” says Micki Nozaki, case specialist for the California Senior Medicare Patrol, which is one of 54 programs throughout the country that work with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to fight Medicare-related fraud. Not only does the new health care law not require you to get a new Medicare or health care card, but “Medicare will never, ever call you,” says Nozaki. Instead, like the IRS, Medicare will contact you about any personal issues through the mail rather than by phone or e-mail. You can call 800-MEDICARE or go to Medicare.gov for more information, or contact the Senior Medicare Patrol in your state.
Fake navigators. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded $67 million in grants to community organizations to help you sign up for coverage through the new health care exchanges (also called marketplaces) when open enrollment starts on October 1. But scam artists are posing as these community “navigators” to gather your personal information -- such as your Social Security number -- to try to steal your identity, or to sell you phony health insurance. “They’re saying that they’re part of the new health-reform program and will sign you up for coverage if you send them or wire them a few hundred dollars to get started,” says Emily Peters, of Patient Fusion, which provides medical records and health spending tools to consumers. Navigators who are legit will not cold-call you or send you an e-mail trying to sell you a policy. “Don’t take a call from someone you don’t know or trust who offers to help you navigate the new health care market or wants to sign you up for an insurance plan that will supposedly make you ACA-compliant -- and then asks for your credit card number,” says Dorman. Instead, find a legitimate navigator in your area through your state’s exchange. See the How do I get help enrolling in the marketplace? fact sheet at Healthcare.gov or call (800) 318-2596 for more information and resources.
Fake exchange sites. Crooks are also sending e-mails and setting up Web sites that look like they’re from an official state exchange, often with very similar names and an official-looking seal. Don’t click on the site or the e-mail; instead, find a link to the state exchange at Healthcare.gov. The exchanges aren’t selling policies until October 1, although you can check out prices and coverage details at some states now.
Misleading insurance sales. Nozaki has also heard from Medicare beneficiaries who received calls from insurance agents -- or people posing as insurance agents -- telling them that they’re going to lose their Medicare benefits or access to their doctors because of Obamacare and that they should sign up for a Medicare Advantage plan instead. They either steal the person’s premiums entirely or get a commission from the sale. Check out all of your options during the open-enrollment season for Medicare Part D and Medicare Advantage coverage from October 15 to December 7, and contact your doctors to make sure they’re still participating in Medicare or in your Medicare Advantage plan before making any change. See Changes in Medicare for 2014 for more information about Medicare open enrollment.