Guard your Medicare card and avoid scams before new cards hit mailboxes in 2018 – Detroit Free Press

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Scammers are impersonating Medicare reps and asking seniors to verify their Social Security numbers. Susan Tompor, Detroit Free Press
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New Medicare cards — the ones that won’t make it easy for ID thieves to steal your Social Security number — will find their way into wallets next year. But we’re already hearing warnings about scams that are bubbling up before the big changeover.

The design for the new Medicare card is expected to be revealed in September. And TV ads have already begun talking about the new cards and featuring the tagline “Guard Your Card.” 

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will mail new cards to those receiving Medicare benefits beginning in April 2018 through April 2019. The new cards will use a unique, randomly assigned code — not your Social Security number. 

Seniors do not have to do anything to get a new card. 

“We’re removing Social Security numbers from Medicare cards to prevent fraud, fight identity theft, and keep taxpayer dollars safe,” according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services‘ web site at www.cms.gov

Consumer watchdogs have argued for years that Medicare needs to remove Social Security numbers off Medicare cards because of fraud, including medical ID theft. Social Security numbers can be sold over and over again on the dark web used by criminals and can be more valuable to fraudsters than a credit card number. 

The Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 requires the agency to remove Social Security numbers from all Medicare cards by April 2019.

The new ID is called a Medicare Beneficiary Identifier, which is 11-characters in length.  The unique ID will be made of numbers and uppercase letters.

But if impostors can scam people by pretending to be from the Internal Revenue Service, you can bet the bad actors will write a script on how they’re from Medicare or Social Security and need information, including your Social Security number, right now. 

Fraudsters use any opportunity — even a crackdown on fraud — to figure out yet another way to engineer a rip-off.

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Medicare is a lifeline for many seniors who are juggling medical bills. And scammers know from experience that it’s easy to scare seniors into handing over information. 

Many years ago, scammers would send seniors an e-mail, reportedly from the Social Security Administration, to demand that seniors turn over bank account information, credit card information and Social Security numbers.

The threat? If seniors didn’t act soon, the bogus e-mail implied, they could lose their chance at getting a cost-of-living raise in their monthly Social Security checks.

Another earlier scam: After big storms or hurricanes, scammers have been known to call those in a disaster area to claim that Medicare cards must be reissued because of the storm. The seniors supposedly needed to “verify” information and then pay $40 to receive a plastic card that would hold up better in another storm. Scammers asked for bank account information to withdraw that $40. 

Fraudsters use stolen Social Security numbers to file fake tax returns and claim refund cash that they’re not owed. Crooks also use stolen Social Security numbers to open credit cards or apply for loans.

ID thieves also consider Medicare numbers and other protected health information valuable because the numbers can be used to bill Medicare for services that you didn’t get.

Susan Bowen, who works for the Area Agency on Aging Region 9 serving northeast Michigan, has been trying to get the word out at various events, including conferences this summer relating to elder abuse, about the potential for new scams. 

Bowen envisions scammers crafting stories that scare seniors into thinking they won’t receive their new cards in time if they don’t  hand over bank account information and Social Security numbers. 

Or maybe some fraudsters, as they have in the past, will say there’s a fee connected to receiving a new Medicare card. There is no such fee. 

Or scammers might threaten that you’d lose your benefits if you don’t react to their demands right away, such as putting cash to pay a bill on a gift card. 

The transition for the new Medicare cards will be happening in phases, so some seniors could be confused and wonder why they didn’t get a new card yet.

“Medicare isn’t going to call you. Social Security isn’t going to call you,” Bowen said. 

But fraudsters will no doubt generate even more calls in light of the changes ahead, rsaid Pat MacKinnon, assistant director for the Michigan Medicare/Medicaid Assistance Program.

Seniors in Michigan can get more information on Medicare-related questions by calling 800-803-7174 to speak with a Medicare/Medicaid Assistance Program counselor. 

The Senior Medicare Patrol — www.smpresource.org — also offers advice on what to do if you were billed for Medicare services you didn’t receive or suspect Medicare fraud. 

You can report scams where impostors claim to be from Medicare, Social Security or the IRS at www.ftc.gov

Adam Levin, founder of CyberScout, said change in any system can lead to more activity from con artists and crooks. He said there was a spike in online fraud and a rise in scams after the rollout of new chip-enhanced credit cards in 2015. 

In some cases, con artists sent e-mails that appeared to be from credit card companies telling consumers that they needed to update their information in order to receive the new EMV chip card. No such thing was required, of course.

Now, Levin said, scammers are capitalizing on the upcoming release of new Medicare cards and pretending to be Medicare reps who must verify Social Security and Medicare numbers, as well as birth dates and addresses. 

“They may threaten that benefits will be lost or services delayed,” Levin said. “This is a scam.” 

What consumers need to remember during this shift to new Medicare cards: 

Don’t get taken off guard by an odd phone call or e-mail. 

No legitimate agency is going to phone you and ask you for your Social Security number in order to issue you a new Medicare card.

If you’re not sure if the call is legitimate, experts suggest that you hang up and call the agency back on the customer service line, which is 800-633-4227 for Medicare and 800-772-1213 for Social Security. 

Hang up if someone tells you there’s a fee of any kind associated with those new Medicare cards.

Remember, there is no charge for the new Medicare cards. No fees, no loss of benefits if you don’t pay up on a gift card.

Don’t leave your wallet in your parked car or locker at the gym.

ID thieves know that many people who are 65 or older continue to carry Medicare cards with them on a regular basis. So even if your wallet doesn’t have cash or credit cards but it has a Medicare card, it’s still a great target.

The AARP and other consumer watchdogs have recommended not carrying your Medicare card with you on a regular basis. You can make a photocopy and eliminate sensitive information, such as all but the last four digits of your Social Security number.

You can put an emergency contact number on the back of the photocopy. Make sure your contact has your Medicare number. 

Fraudsters may be running more intense scams now that the Social Security numbers will be eliminated from Medicare cards. 

“Scammers are looking to find ways to squeeze every last penny from their victims before certain avenues are closed to them,” Levin said.

Contact Susan Tompor: stompor@freepress.com or 313-222-8876. Follow Susan on Twitter @Tompor. 

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