Written by Clayton Alexander
Since the beginning of this year, BBB has been seeing a steady increase in the number of reports regarding phone, email, and even door-to-door scams all on the subject of health care. These scams can be performed in a number of different ways and while the methods may vary, their motivation is always to steal your personal information.
Why Medical IDs?
These scammers often try to steal a person’s medical information in order to assume that person’s identity. By doing this, the scammer (or someone to whom they might sell the information) can go to a hospital or clinic and have surgeries performed, obtain medical equipment and even acquire prescription drugs. All of this is essentially free for the scammer, as it all gets billed to the legitimate subscriber. A similar practice involves coaxing victims into ordering free medical equipment that they do not need using their Medicare ID number. The FTC reported that the total amount of money lost through health care scams last year was approximately $4 million according to their Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book for the 2018 year.
How it happens
The most common way scammers will try and steal your medical information is via robo-calls. The call usually leaves an automated message if you do not pick up the phone. Not unlike the social security scam calls, the callers introduce themselves as representing a government agency or affiliate, specific to the subject matter.
Overall, scam callers almost always use one of two tactics to persuade you to give them your information: fear or freebies. Sometimes they may tell you that you have some sort of unpaid fine, and due to that, your account is suspended or frozen until you call them back. Other times it is simply that they are giving you a special, limited time offer on a medical product or service.
A very recent example of this was BBB receiving reports, from all over, of scam calls that offered people free medical braces. All the person called had to do was provide their Medicare account number to have the brace shipped to them. According to the Office of Inspector General, it is illegal to call upon individuals unsolicited to try and convince them to order free durable medical equipment. This is considered Medicare fraud. Issues involving scam calls have worsened in recent years, as scammers can now use technology to fake their phone numbers and caller IDs to say that they represent government entities.
How can it be avoided?
The best thing a person can do is hang up the phone if the call sounds like a scam. The government does not call people unsolicited, and ask them for personal/sensitive information.
As always, a good rule of thumb is to never give out personal information over the phone. On this note, do not succumb to pressure by scammers either. Many scammers who impersonate government agencies will squeeze information out of victims by threatening them with fines or jail time unless they comply. Sometimes they will just bombard the victims with calls; sometimes as many as ten calls in a single day. In these situations, the best option is to just hang up and ignore the scammers’ calls. Lastly, BBB strongly recommends that you keep all your health information cards in a safe place in your home, rather than in your wallet/purse and only retrieve them when you plan to visit your health care provider.
If you or someone you know has encountered a scam, make sure you report it to the Federal Trade Commission (ftc.gov/complaint). You should also make a point of filing a report on BBB Scam Tracker (bbb.org/scamtracker) to help others avoid the scam as well. If you have older family members or relatives, please warn them of these scams, as many of the aforementioned scams specifically target the elderly. As always, you can always check out bbb.org to find out more about these scams, and how they can be avoided.
Clayton Alexander is the Storyteller/Communications Specialist at Better Business Bureau serving Central California & Inland Empire Counties.