Money & Policy

The Rising Medicare Scams You Need to Know About

During Medicare Open Enrollment, crooks take advantage of older adults

Open Enrollment time is here, and in addition to navigating the Medicare maze to get the best benefits possible, those eligible for the federal health program for Americans 65+ have another thing to be worried about: Medicare scams.

The Federal Trade Commission warns that scammers may pose as “official” Medicare agents over the phone or at the door in an attempt to gather personal information or swindle people into purchasing pricey “replacement cards,”  Time reported in a recent story.

This type of scamming is likely on the rise this year, according to AARP. The reason? The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) will mail out new (and free) cards in 2018 to replace current cards with Social Security numbers on them. Although this measure is meant to protect Medicare-holders’ identity, the process gives scammers the perfect opportunity to trick people into buying new cards. AARP also points out that Medicare scammers take advantage of recent natural disasters by claiming falsely that cardholders should, or must, purchase new, weather-resistant cards.

Medicare Scams To Watch For

Be on the alert for other Medicare scams, including:

  • Claims that require people to join a Medicare prescription drug plan (Part D) or risk losing coverage. Medicare Part D is voluntary and not required.
  • Attempts to have people sign up for Medicare coverage anywhere else but SocialSecurity.gov
  • Claims entitling Medicare recipients to a refund from last year’s care in an attempt to gather their bank account and credit card information
  • Offers for alternative, discounted or supplemental coverage that require upfront payment or personal information

Be on the alert for anyone who claims to be a Medicare sales representative because that job does not exist. Medicare officials don’t go to door-to-door and will only correspond with recipients via phone or email if prompted to first. Official insurance communication is always mailed.

The Vulnerability of Older Adults

Scams set up to target older populations are unfortunately common. In 2010, one fifth of Americans over 65 reported in a telephone survey that they had been subject to some sort of financial fraud or abuse.

Research suggests that changes in our brains as we age may make older people more likely to be victims of scams and fraud, as was explored in a previous Next Avenue story.

“Why do older adults seem to be particularly vulnerable to financial abuse and scams? Part of the answer may be that they seem more trusting than other age groups, in general,” our story reported. “When asked in a MIT study, ‘Do you feel that most people can be trusted?’ boomers gave the highest percentage of ‘Yes’ answers.”

In a UCLA study, participants were shown faces with cues as to their trustworthiness of untrustworthiness. The older participants saw the untrustworthy faces as significantly more trustworthy than the younger participants did. The study also found that the older participants had less activation in the part of the brain that provides what we refer to as gut feelings — feelings that can warn about potential risk or danger. Older adults tend to develop what researchers call a “positivity bias,” which is a tendency to devote more attention and memory to positive information, possibly in an effort to maintain a positive mood and high morale.

Partnering the current insurance climate of constant change and upheaval with the history of financial fraud targeted at older people creates a perfect storm for Medicare scams. Be on alert, only trust official mailed correspondence and be cautious when giving out sensitive information.

By Grace Birnstengel
Grace Birnstengel is an editor at Next Avenue. Her work has appeared in Minneapolis-St. Paul's alt-weekly City Pages, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Stereogum.com, The Riveter Magazine, VICE's Live Nation TV, 89.3 The Current and more. She most recently worked as an editor for a B2B magazine in New York City. She holds a degree in journalism and gender, women and sexuality studies from the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities where she was the editor-in-chief of the student magazine, The Wake. Reach her by email at gbirnstengel@nextavenue.org.

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