Starting in April, the Social Security Administration began issuing 44 million Americans brand new Medicare cards. This is part of the plan to protect retirees from having their Social Security numbers stolen. These new cards don’t have a Social Security number on them. Unfortunately, the crooks have taken advantage of the fact that more than 75 percent of retirees have never heard of the new Medicare cards.
That confusion is like a light to a moth for scammers, and they are capitalizing on it. BBB’s across the country are already hearing about calls from people needing help because the criminals are calling.
The new cards are being distributed in large batches called “waves.” Cards for Ohio Medicare recipients are slated for distribution in the seventh wave, sometime after June, with the rest of the country to be completed before April 2019.
According to the Social Security Administration, a Medicare recipient’s coverage will automatically transfer to the cards with a new identifying number. There is no requirement to do anything or pay any fee for coverage to be in effect.
In an AARP poll of 800 adults age 65 and over, most knew nothing about the new cards and were confused about whether Medicare would charge them a fee to get one. The majority polled also said they weren’t certain whether the government agency requires a call to verify a recipient’s identity before providing new cards.
Because of this confusion and uncertainty, scammers have targeted seniors with a vengeance. There are three scams that seem to be con artists’ favorites.
One involves a scammer calling seniors, telling them there is a $25 processing fee for the new card and then asking for a credit card number for payment. But as we stated earlier, there is no charge or fee.
In another con, scammers inform Medicare recipients that the Social Security Administration is replacing the old cards and must verify identification information, including a Social Security number. Again, you don’t have to verify your identity.
The most scurrilous scam so far of the three cons takes it a step further. A caller, posing as a federal employee, asks seniors to provide bank account information so the crook can “credit” the senior’s account for a bogus balance on their old card. Once this information is obtained, the thief then drains the victim’s bank account. The Social Security Administration points out recipients don’t have to do anything to transfer their balance from one card to another.
There are sophisticated tactics scammers often use to make it appear phone calls come from legitimate government agencies. They frequently refer to the victims they call by their names, which are readily available in many places online. But remember, you shouldn’t trust a caller just because they know your name.
Remember, Medicare, government agencies, the IRS or banking institutions are not going to call you and request your personal information. A good rule of thumb: Never give out your personal information over the phone unless you initiate the call.
If you, or someone you know, have received one of these Medicare card scam calls, report it to the Medicare fraud tip line at 800-MEDICARE and call your local BBB office.
Cheryl Parson is president of the Better Business bureau serving West Central Ohio. The BBB may be found on the Internet at www.lima.bbb.org.