According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the total amount of money lost to healthcare scams in 2018 was 4 million dollars. Criminals and scammers have no issue with using healthcare to defraud their victims, causing them financial harm in the process. The goal of the scammer is always the same: to get people to divulge their personal information.
Fraudsters will try and get Social Security numbers, Medicare numbers, and financial information. Scammers target the elderly, as they may be lonely, willing to listen and are more trusting than younger individuals. Scammers prey on people's fears of having to pay penalties. Most seniors are on fixed incomes, so discounts and deals may sound like good news to them.
Scammers use different ways to obtain an individual's Medicare card information, with the most common being the scammer stating that that they are from the "government." The scammer will ask the senior for their Medicare number to issue them a new card and for discounted rates. They will then usually begin to use scare tactics and threaten the victim with penalties and other fees if the victim does not take immediate actions.
Once they have received this information, they may:
- Coax the victim into buying medical equipment they do not need
- Sell the Medicare card number to someone who need surgery, prescription drugs, or medical equipment
- Assume the victim's identity and have surgery performed on themselves, get medications, or medical equipment
The scammer does not pay for any of the surgeries, drugs, or equipment. It becomes the legitimate Medicare card subscriber's responsibility to foot the bill, even if they were not the ones to receive any of this care.
Phone and Email Healthcare Scams
Scammers will use phone and email tactics to pose as healthcare providers. Again, the motivation is to steal personal information. Robocalls are the "go-to" method to steal healthcare information. These calls leave an automated voicemail if the victim does not answer the phone. You may:
- Get a call or email stating that you have unpaid fines that will result in the suspension of an account
- Get a call or email about receiving free medical equipment that has been pre-approved by your doctor
- Get a call or email about a special offer on a medical service or product that is only available for a limited time
Scammers will often also tell victims they need their shipping address. The double whammy here is that the victim has also given their home address to potential harmful individuals.
How to Protect Yourself From Healthcare Scammers
With the ever increasing number of healthcare scams perpetrated daily, you must take steps to protect yourself, older adult or not. Here are some tips on how to avoid getting scammed:
- Don't carry your health information cards and medical ID's around all the time - keep them in a safe place in your home, not in your purse or wallet
- Never give out ANY personal information over the phone
- If you suspect the call is suspicious, or sounds like an automated message scam, hang up the phone immediately
- If you continue to receive these threatening calls, ignore these calls and take the steps to block the phone numbers
- If you are receiving scam emails, do a reverse email search and see who is sending these emails - you can also block email senders
- Keep abreast of the latest news on healthcare scams and medical fraud by reading blogs, articles, and other sources
If you or someone you know encounters a healthcare scammer, make sure to report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) immediately. Aside from the National Do Not Call Registry, you can file a complaint on FTC's website. Your actions may help others avoid getting scammed. You can even go the extra mile and help others by sharing your experience on blogs and forums!
Written By: Care Manager - Kelly Foster, LPN, CM