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As If Open Enrollment Weren’t Confusing Enough: FTC Warns Seniors to Be On Guard Against Medicare-Related Fraud and Scams

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During Medicare open enrollment, which continues through December 7 th, your friends here at the AgingOptions Blog have been keeping our eyes open for “news you can use” to help you make a wise decision concerning your medical coverage for 2023. There’s a lot at stake, so we trust you’ve been doing your homework: after all, the plan you pick now will determine what kind of care you get, and from whom, and for how much, for a full year to come.

Last week we brought you this important story alerting you that many Medicare Advantage providers have been accused of widespread deceptive marketing practices. This week, though, the news is even more alarming. The Federal Trade Commission, as described in this CNBC article by reporter Sarah O’Brien, is warning all seniors and their loved ones to be on their guard, because open enrollment season has brought the scammers and con artists out of the woodwork once again. Their goal: to get their thieving hands on your Medicare account number, your Social Security number, or your bank information – anything they can use to rip you off.

As O’Brien reports, we’re not talking chump change. Last year, says the FTC, seniors lost more than $121 million to imposters posing as government employees. With the help of the CNBC article, here are some tips to help you avoid falling victim to scammers.

Open Enrollment is Hunting Season for Fraudsters

In her CNBC expose, O’Brien begins chillingly: “You may know that it’s open enrollment time for Medicare. So do scammers.” Because of that, she explains, the Federal Trade Commission is warning seniors about the strong possibility of those scammers impersonating Medicare agents. “The program’s open enrollment, which started October 15 and runs through December 7, is when Medicare beneficiaries can make changes to their coverage — and criminals often try to capitalize on that with unsolicited calls.”

Ari Parker, a senior advisor at a Medicare advisory firm, warns bluntly, “If someone asks for your Medicare identification number, sirens should go off. Same with your Social Security number and checking account information.”

Scams Cost Seniors $121 Million Last Year

As a general rule, anyone reaching out to you unsolicited about your coverage, either by phone or email, is not likely to have your best interests at heart. “Of course,” O’Brien adds, “this excludes agents you are already working with or who signed you up for your current plan.”

This open enrollment period is when beneficiaries are encouraged to review their current coverage and make sure it still fits their needs. This mostly centers around Part D (drug coverage) and Advantage Plans. 

As such, elder fraud is common during this time. O’Brien writes that a recent FTC report reported “in 2021, older adults lost $121 million to scammers posing as government officials and another $151 million to scammers impersonating private business employees. Of Medicare’s roughly 64.5 million beneficiaries, 56.6 million are age 65 or older.”

Scammed by a Fake Website

Criminals know what they’re doing and can easily make their correspondence look like it’s legitimate. Emails that look like they are related to your Medicare plan could arrive in your inbox, asking you to click a link that you may not see as suspicious.

Even when the website looks official, you can still be fooled. “Some scammers set up spoof websites,” Parker says. “You provide your information and it goes to the scammer, who might be anywhere in the world.”

O’Brien explains, “The goal for the scammers is to get hold of enough identifying information — they may already have pieces of it — to commit fraud with your Medicare ID, steal your money or even steal your identity, according to the FTC.”

Tips to Help You Navigate Open Enrollment Safely

O’Brien provides the following tips from the FTC to help in avoiding common scams during this open enrollment season. Here’s her list from the CNBC article:

  • Be aware that scammers can fake a caller ID.
  • Hang up if anyone calls and asks for your Medicare, Social Security or bank or credit card information. Legitimate Medicare employees have your Medicare number on file.
  • Don’t be rushed into making a decision. You have until December 7 to enroll, and Medicare doesn’t offer extra benefits for signing up early.
  • Ignore threats to take away your benefits. If you qualify, your benefits can’t be taken away for not signing up for a plan.
  • Don’t talk to anyone who suggests their plan is preferred by Medicare. The program does not endorse a specific plan.

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(originally reported at www.cnbc.com)

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