How to Avoid Medicare Scams

 Emily Brandon

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services began mailing out new Medicare cards in April 2018. The new Medicare cards contain a unique Medicare number instead of Social Security numbers, a change that is intended to prevent identity theft. However, scammers are launching fraud schemes to take advantage of the Medicare card replacement program. Here are some of the new Medicare scams to watch out for:

A processing fee. One scheme involves callers who pretend to be Medicare representatives and ask for a processing fee or other immediate credit card payment before a new Medicare card will be sent. “In recent weeks we have had more than a dozen West Virginia consumers report receiving scam calls related to Medicare,” says West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. “The culprits pose as Medicare representatives in hopes of gaining access to Social Security numbers, bank account information and other personal data. Some also may seek payment for the consumer’s newly issued Medicare card.”

However, there is no charge for the new Medicare cards, and they will be automatically mailed to all existing Medicare beneficiaries between April 2018 and April 2019. "These cards are free of charge," says Sandy Morales, a project manager for California Health Advocates. "There will be no personal calls from Medicare about the card."

A March 2018 AARP and Alan Newman Research survey of 800 adults age 65 and older found that most older people (60 percent) say they aren't sure whether Medicare will charge new beneficiaries a processing fee for the card, which could make them susceptible to the scam. The majority of the seniors surveyed admit that they are concerned about being the target of a Medicare scam (60 percent) or a victim of identity theft (74 percent).

Verifying personal information. You might receive calls asking you to verify your Social Security number, address or other personal information before a new Medicare card will be sent. This is a ploy to convince you to disclose personal information. Medicare will not be calling individual beneficiaries to check personal data. "People should beware of anyone who contacts them about their new Medicare card because Medicare will never ask you to give personal or private information to get your new Medicare card," says Lisa Weintraub Schifferle, an attorney at the Federal Trade Commission. "The new Medicare cards will be mailed to you automatically, and there won't be any changes to your benefits."

If you want to double-check that Medicare has your current address, you can do so by contacting the Social Security Administration at, 1-800-772-1213 or by calling your local Social Security office.

The new card was lost. Another version of the scam involves a caller saying that there is a problem with your new Medicare card, such as the card being lost or someone else tried to use it. Supposedly to resolve the situation, you could be asked for personal information or payment. However, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services reports that it will take a year to mail out new cards to all beneficiaries, and doesn't expect to complete the process until April 2019. Those who reside in Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Puerto Rico, Tennessee and the Virgin Islands will be among the last to receive the new cards.

A request to mail in your old card. Some scammers are asking retirees to mail in their old Medicare card. However, you should not give your old card to anyone else, because it contains your Social Security number. Instead, once you receive your new Medicare card, the old card should be destroyed in such a way that your Social Security number is no longer visible. "You should shred your old Medicare card because it has your Social Security number out there," Schifferle says. "You don't want your old card floating around with your Social Security number on it."

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