Understanding and Avoiding Scams — So They Don’t Happen to You!

In 2018, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported more than 1.4 million cases of fraud, and a large number of these scams involved preying on Medicare or Social Security beneficiaries. According to the FTC, the various scams taking place in 2018 resulted in losses of $1.48 billion from victims. In order to protect your identity and money, it’s important to understand the types of scams that are out there and how to avoid them.

Phone Spoofing

Impostors disguise their phone numbers to persuade people to answer the call. Usually, the number will be similar to yours so that you think you might know who’s on the other end. Scammers might even hide behind an official government phone number. They do this to get personal information from you by using a set of tactics.

Durable Medical Equipment (DME) Scams

Your Medicare information can make scammers a significant amount of money. With this information, false claims can be made for durable medical equipment, such as a brace, therapeutic mattress, oxygen, etc. A company might work under the rouse of a legitimate DME business. They commit fraud by offering medical equipment to Medicare beneficiaries who don’t want or need it, and they work with fraudulent doctors or use a doctor’s stolen identity to sign off on the necessity of that equipment. These scammers bill Medicare for much more than the equipment actually costs. The equipment is then sent to the Medicare beneficiary or is not sent at all.

Legitimate DME companies will not attempt to sell you anything unless you’ve done business with them in the past 15 months. Medical equipment is something that you would discuss with your doctor first, and they would prescribe it.

Computer/Mobile Device Scams

Scammers attempt to get money or personal information using several computer-based methods. The technical support scam is a popular tactic. The goal is to get you to provide access to your computer’s screen and then pay to fix a problem that doesn’t exist. These fake tech support members often claim to be from well-known companies, such as Google or Apple. They will usually contact you by phone either on their own or because you called a number that was listed in a computer popup message.

Oftentimes, scammers send an email that contains a link and looks like it’s from a reputable or familiar company. The email could say something like, “You’ve won money! Click here to claim it.” The goal is to get you to click that link. Doing so will either bring you to a form to input personal or payment information, or it will infect your computer with malware — of which, Spyware is a common type. It’s used to see all the personal information you keep on your phone or computer. Another common type is ransomware, which locks your computer and tells you that payment is necessary to unlock it. Malware can also come from clicking a popup that appears to have an urgent message, such as you’ve won a prize or have a computer virus.

What They Want

The goal for scammers is usually money, but sometimes they’re after prescription medications. They get money because you either send it to them (usually through gift cards or wire transfers) or by using your personal or Medicare information to open credit card accounts or file false claims. Scammers can use the following pieces of information to get into your bank account, steal your identity, open credit card accounts, or file false medical claims.

  • Date of birth
  • Birthplace
  • Mother’s maiden name
  • Bank account number
  • Social security number (or last four digits)
  • Credit card number (or last eight digits)
  • Medicare member number

What They Might Say

Medicare or Social Security Scammers:

  • There’s a problem with your benefits, and we need your member I.D. or social security number to tell you what the issue is.
  • You need a new Medicare card, but you have to pay for it.
  • You’re eligible for free medical equipment. All you have to do is provide your Medicare information.
  • There are new policies or updates, but you have to verify your identity with personal information.
  • You will be getting extra money, or there’s an issue with your cost-of-living adjustments (COLA). Verify your account with personal information, such as your bank account or social security number.

Computer or phone scammers:

  • You’re in legal trouble (arrest warrant or fake identity theft), but if you send money now (usually in the form of a gift card or wire transfer), you’ll be safe.
  • You have a computer virus. Click this link or send payment for protection.
  • You’ve won the lottery or are the site’s special prize winner. Simply enter your bank account to claim your prize.

Scammers are constantly thinking of new ways to get your money or information. What you should know is that Medicare or the Social Security Administration will never call or email you and ask for your information. Other reputable companies wouldn’t typically do this either. If anyone contacts you and requests your information or payment for services, your best chance at keeping your money or identity safe is to call that company yourself using their official phone number. Also, if someone is reaching out to you about a problem you didn’t know you had, it’s probably a scam. One last tip is that companies will never contact you for money in the form of gift cards, wire transfers or through money-transfer mobile apps.

If you suspect you’ve been part of a scam or that someone attempted to scam you, here’s a list of numbers you can call:

Medicare scams: 1-800-633-4227

Social Security Administration scams: 1-800-269-0271

Federal Trade Commission (FTC): 1-877-382-4357

Federal Communications Commission (FCC): 1-888-225-5322

Essence Healthcare