Medicare open enrollment runs every year from October 15 to December 7. Unfortunately, this is a prime time for scammers looking to target seniors who may be interested in switching their health insurance.
Whether you're satisfied with your current Medicare plan or considering making a change to secure the insurance coverage you need, you don't want to fall victim to these predators’ tricks. Doing so could end up being one of your most costly retirement mistakes.
The good news is, avoiding scams is easy if you know what to look for. In particular, there are five common tricks fraudsters often use to trip you up. Here's what they are.
1. Fake Medicare advisor phone calls
Fake phone calls are designed to get your personal information, credit card number, or other financial information in exchange for phony products or unsolicited (and often inaccurate) advice. Often, the so-called advisor will pressure you to act quickly.
To make sure you don't fall victim to this scam, avoid giving out any personal or payment information over the phone. Medicare advisors or plan representatives will never call you (unless you're already enrolled), and they won't ask for payment over the phone under any circumstances.
If you get a phone call and you aren't sure whether it's legit, tell the person you'll call back and hang up — then call 1-800-MEDICARE or the number from your card or plan documents, if you have a Medicare Advantage plan. This can help you ensure you're talking to a legitimate Medicare representative.
2. Shady offers for free medical care or supplies
Offers of free medical care or supplies could be designed to steal money from Medicare, to weed you out of being able to get the coverage you want, or to get your Medicare card information.
Some companies promise you free medical equipment, but then they bill Medicare for hundreds or even thousands of dollars of items or services — which you may not have received or needed. Also, some brokers who offer no-cost health screenings do so in order to try to weed out unhealthy people and cherry-pick those whose care will be the cheapest to provide. Finally, other scammers may offer you expensive sign-up gifts if you provide your Medicare ID number first.
The bottom line is, no matter why it's being done, it's illegal to offer kickbacks, freebies, or other promos to Medicare beneficiaries. To protect yourself, just say no.
3. Supplemental coverage scams
In some cases, it makes sense to buy supplemental insurance when you have original Medicare. In fact, purchasing a Medigap policy can help you to limit-out-of-pocket costs. But legitimate purveyors of Medigap policies aren't going to contact you randomly or make an aggressive sales pitch.
If you get a phone call from a salesperson promising you can save thousands in out-of-pocket costs, chances are they're overpromising and are going to underdeliver — if they're even offering a legitimate plan at all. To ensure you don't end up buying something you shouldn't, compare policies at Medicare.gov and make sure to read the fine print carefully.
4. Spam Medicare emails that look legit
Spam emails are another technique designed to get your Medicare card number or other personal details. The email may claim to come from a doctor's office, a state or local health agency, a hospital, or Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
The email scam could take several forms, including a request for identifying information because you need a new Medicare card, or because you're entitled to money back due to changes in Medicare.
Whatever the reason, it's not legitimate. You will never be contacted by a government agent, service provider, or an insurer and asked for your Medicare number, bank account details, or other personal info via email.
Again, the best way to respond is to simply close the email — never reply to it or click on links within it. If you have questions about whether it was legitimate, call 1-800-MEDICARE or the number on the back of your card to find out.
5. Visits from fake Medicare reps
Legitimate Medicare Advantage sales representatives do sometimes offer seniors information about plans that are available. But often if someone approaches you uninvited, they're up to no good. In fact, they may be trying to aggressively sell you on a plan that's not right for you or may not even be affiliated with an insurer at all and may just be trying to steal your personal data.
Avoiding this scam is also simple — don't talk with anyone who you haven't contacted through official channels and made an appointment with. You don't need a sales representative, as you can compare plans using the Medicare Plan finder. If you want more assistance, contact a trusted partner or use a free online service called Help with your Medicare choices. You'll be asked five simple questions about your health care needs and guided toward the right plan options.
5 tips for protecting yourself from Medicare scams
These are the most common Medicare scams, but there may be others out there as well. To ensure you don't fall victim to a fraudster, follow these five key pieces of advice:
1. Safeguard your personal information
Never give out your name, address, Medicare number, Social Security number, bank account information, or any other identifying details to someone claiming to be a Medicare sales representative.
Whether someone approaches you in person or calls your home, don't engage. If you're not sure whether there is a legitimate issue, or if you need help, call 1-800-MEDICARE or the number on the back of your Medicare card and get help from a legitimate representative.
2. Don’t click on any links in Medicare emails
Links can send you to legitimate-looking websites that are really just phishing attempts. Avoid opening any emails you receive from anyone saying they’re from Medicare, an insurer, a hospital or doctor, or a state or federal health agency. Again, you can always find the contact details for these organizations independently and call them yourself if you aren't sure whether they have a legitimate issue you need to address.
3. Err on the side of skepticism (if something seems suspicious or too good to be true, it usually is)
Offers of free medical care or equipment, or of plans that can save you thousands out of pocket, may sound good but are often fishy. Remember, there's no such thing as a free lunch, so say no to anything that sounds too good to be true.
If a sales representative is aggressively pushing a plan on you, disengage and hang up. If you are potentially interested in whatever coverage they were offering, you should be able to find it using Medicare's plan finder. Do that instead of signing up with the representative or sharing any of your info with them. Then, take the time to read all the details carefully before you act.
4. Review your Medicare Summary Notices regularly
Medicare Summary Notices list services you received as well as prescriptions filled. If you have original Medicare, the documents you receive will be called a Medicare Summary Notice. If you have an Advantage Plan, you'll receive a similar document but it may have a different name.
Carefully review all of the claims that have been made under your name. If there are any errors or illegitimate charges, take action quickly to correct them. This may mean contacting the provider to ask why you were charged, or it could mean going through the process of reporting fraud if you didn't actually receive the services listed. This process starts with a call to Medicare at 1-800-MEDICARE or to the Medicare Drug Integrity Contractor at 877-7SAFERX if you have an Advantage Plan.
5. Work with a trusted partner to find coverage
Open enrollment can be confusing, and you don't have to go it alone — even if you can't trust random so-called Medicare representatives that approach you. Working with a trusted partner can help you to find the right coverage while avoiding falling victim to scams.