Protecting seniors (either yourself or others) from financial fraud is an ongoing concern in this technological age. The need for vigilance against it increases this month as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) starts sending out new Medicare cards with a Medicare Beneficiary Identifier in place of a Social Security number.
“Recipients don’t have to do anything more than start using the card,” writes Thomas Goldsmith in his article for North Carolina Health News. Beginning in April, people with Medicare will begin receiving the new cards in the mail. The new card replaces the Social Security Number with a Medicare Number that’s unique to each person with Medicare and will keep personal information more secure. Although the card will be new, Medicare coverage and benefits will stay the same.
The card is still red, white and blue, but it no longer includes a Social Security number, gender, signature or other personal information that could compromise a Medicare beneficiary’s identity. The new cards have an 11-character, randomly assigned number that has no connection to a beneficiary’s other personal data.
As new cards are sent out, scammers might try to take advantage of this transition. The following is some information to help you for protecting seniors, whether yourself or others, and prevent getting caught up in a Medicare card scam.
Know when the cards may be arriving
The Centers for Medicare and Medicare Services (CMS) announced the seven-stage rollout schedule for the replacement card. North Carolinians can expect their cards to begin arriving after June 2018. Read the mailing schedule.
With such a big change underway and a scheduled rollout across states, there is sure to be some confusion along the way. There will be a transition period during which you can use either your new Medicare card or your old card at doctors’ offices and hospitals. Both should work until Dec. 31, 2019.
Realize why this is important to scammers
It’s the confusion that scammers want, even if they have to create it. Scammers are already hard at work devising ways to use this period of time. For a scammer, change, uncertainty and 60-million Medicare recipients signals prime opportunity. Why, they can scam before, during and even after a transition such as this. Opportunity.
If you receive a phone call, email or text offering to help with this transition, ignore the offer. Don’t provide or verify any personal information to an unsolicited caller or written request. Medicare will automatically mail new cards at no cost to the address on file at Social Security so making sure the address of anyone you’re helping is up-to-date is important.
Be aware of scams that may occur
In one scam, reported by California’s Area 1 Agency on Aging, a caller purporting to represent Medicare or another government agency claimed to need bank account information so Medicare can arrange a direct deposit of funds into your account. The new Medicare cards are used as an excuse for the call.
Another such scam effort was reported by Kaiser Health News. Alfonso Hernandez, 65, who lives in Moreno Valley, Calif., received a call from a man who told him, in Spanish, that Medicare was going to issue new cards and that he needed to verify some information, including Hernandez’s name, address and Social Security number.
“I said no, normally, I don’t give my Social Security number to anyone,” Hernandez said. At that point, the caller put his “supervisor” on the phone, who said the government needed to make sure it had correct information. Caught off guard, Hernandez recited his Social Security number and, “as soon as I did that, they hung up.”
Also recent, California’s Senior Medicare Patrol program received a report of another scam detected in Riverside County: a caller claiming that before a senior can get a new Medicare card, he or she would have to pay $5 to $50 for a new “temporary” card.
Scammers may threaten beneficiaries with the loss of Medicare benefits if they don’t comply. Experts say don’t buy it. Remember that Medicare will never contact you uninvited to ask for your personal information.
North Carolina’s own Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey doesn’t mince words as he reminds us of likely methods that may be used by scam artists:
- Calls from people posing as Medicare personnel, asking for Social Security or bank account numbers. In fact, Medicare will not call you, let alone ask for private information.
- A request to pay for a new card. Don’t do it. Not needed.
- A threat to cancel benefits unless the caller gets money. Another scam.
Five Steps To Take for Protecting Seniors
There are a few simple steps for protecting seniors, strengthening our security and increasing peace of mind.
- Update your address. Before the mailing begins, beneficiaries should make sure their addresses are correct. If you think Social Security might not have your current address, call 1-800-772-1213 or check your online Social Security account at https://www.ssa.gov/myaccount/.
- Familiarize yourself with scams associated with this transition. Get savvy.
- Know when your states cards may begin to arrive, and watch for yours.
- Anticipate (sadly) contact from fraudsters who want to catch you during the transition to incite fear or doubt, or seeks to befriend you “during this important time.”
- Tell a friend. Share this article. Talk about this issue while at work, or within your faith community. Make this hot topic become the proverbial “water cooler talk,” and help someone to know of potential danger.
Three Steps To Take Once New Cards Are Received
- Once you receive your new card, shred and/or thoroughly destroy your old card.
- Treat your Medicare Number like you treat your Social Security and credit card numbers. Remember, Medicare will never contact you uninvited to ask for your personal information.
- Only provide your new number to doctors, your insurers, pharmacists, health care providers or others you trust to work with Medicare on your behalf. They are ready to accept your new card when you need care.
Finally, spouses or family members should not be surprised or worried if cards come at separate times for different people in the household. All the cards will show up in time. Medicare has until December 2019 to get recipients their new card. And that may present a long time to remain vigilant at protecting seniors.
If you suspect identity theft, or feel like you released your personal information to someone you shouldn’t have, contact the Federal Trade Commission.
For more information on protecting seniors in North Carolina, call the N.C. Department of Insurance’s Seniors’ Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP) at 855-408-1212. Any Medicare consumers may call 1-800-772-1213, or check your online Social Security account at https://www.ssa.gov/myaccount/.
We as Professional Advocates work to protect and inform during change. If you or someone you know is encountering challenges produced by aging or chronic condition we can help. Simply CONNECT WITH US on our website www.navigatenc.com or call us at 919.628.4428.
Image credit: Medicare.gov