CHICAGO (Reuters) - (The
writer is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Navigating Medicare can be complicated, but one big change recently
introduced requires that you do absolutely nothing beyond opening an
envelope. In fact, doing just about anything else could open the
door to a damaging identity-fraud scam.
Medicare is mailing out new identification cards to 59 million
Americans this year and in early 2019. The old Medicare cards use
Social Security numbers as identifiers; the new cards use a unique,
randomly assigned number. The changeover is part of a sweeping
federal initiative to bolster defenses against fraud by reducing the
widespread use of Social Security numbers as identifiers throughout
Trouble is, phone scammers are taking the card replacement program
as an opportunity to target seniors. The most common trick is to
call Medicare enrollees and tell them they must pay for their new
cards, then request their bank account information or Social
That opens the door to identity theft.
“We are hearing from people who have been told their Social Security
payments will stop coming unless they give the caller their personal
information, or that they can’t send the new Medicare card unless
they get a payment,” said Amy Nofziger, a fraud expert with AARP.
In fact, the new card is free, and you do not need to do anything to
get it. The new card does not change your Medicare coverage in any
way. And Medicare will not be calling you about this. Just keep an
eye out for an envelope containing the new card, and then give the
new number to your healthcare providers. Then stash the card away
for safekeeping, since carrying it around creates yet another theft
risk. Finally, destroy the old card.
Unfortunately, we've got a failure to communicate, to paraphrase the
1967 film classic “Cool Hand Luke.”
An AARP survey conducted in March found that 76 percent of adults
aged 65 and older had not seen, read or heard "much of anything at
all" about the new Medicare cards, or were not sure if they had.
Three-quarters could not correctly identify the key change coming
with the new Medicare identification numbers.
Nearly two-thirds were unsure or incorrect in thinking that Medicare
would be charging beneficiaries a $25 processing fee for the new
cards. And 56 percent were unsure or incorrect in thinking that
Medicare would be calling to verify their Social Security number
before they could receive their new card.
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THE ROLLOUT SCHEDULE
Anyone signing up for Medicare now automatically receives the new
card. Mailing of replacement cards already is complete in some
eastern states (Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West
Virginia and the District of Columbia). The cards are in the mail
now for most Midwestern states, plus California and Oregon. All new
cards will be sent by next April. Details on the status of every
state can be found on the Medicare website (https://bit.ly/2Jlf3Dm)
Most of the fraud schemes are being conducted by phone, Nofziger
said. So understanding Medicare phone protocols is key.
As a general matter, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services
(CMS) does not contact enrollees for Medicare numbers or other
personal information, unless they have granted permission in
advance. The only time you might receive a legitimate phone call
from Medicare is if you have given CMS permission to call in
advance; also, Medicare Advantage or prescription drug plans may
call if you already are a member of that plan.
You also might get a call from Medicare if you have left a message
requesting a call-back. More information on preventing Medicare
fraud can be found at the CMS website: (bit.ly/1QneOn0). The Social
Security Administration does sometimes call beneficiaries for
customer service purposes, but representatives never ask for
If you are not certain that a call from Medicare or Social Security
is legitimate, hang up and call the agency back on the customer
service lines: 1-800-633-4227 or 1-800-772-1213 for Social Security.
If you have been victimized by a Medicare fraud scam, put a freeze
or fraud alert on your credit with one of the three major credit
reporting companies (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax). Nofziger
notes you need call only one of these companies, which will in turn
alert the others. Also notify your bank and credit card providers.
AARP maintains a fraud hotline that can provide help:
(Editing by Matthew Lewis)
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