By Ron Mori
Among the steady calls of telemarketing calls that my mother receives daily, she recently told me about a call she received from Medicare. Luckily, she knew that Medicare would never call her unsolicited, and the nice voice on the other end was not really trying to confirm if her new card had arrived.
In short, if you receive a call from someone claiming to be from Medicare, hang up. Unless you’ve left a message asking for a return call, no one from Medicare — or from Social Security, for that matter — will ever call you on the phone, email you or visit you in person. It’s a scam.
What are the scammers after? Most often, it’s our personal financial information, which they can sell or use to steal our identities, run up our bills or empty our bank accounts.
Every U.S. citizen or permanent resident age 65 or over qualifies for Medicare, and there is no shortage of greedy people eager to take advantage of this large population. All too often, they succeed.
Some 5 million older adults are taken in by financial fraudsters annually, who steal about $37 billion from them every year.
Here is how the con artists work:
The caller claims to be from Medicare or the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The ploy varies, and it can be someone telling you that you need to update your information, you owe money or you qualify for more benefits. In order to help you, the caller insists that you must verify your personal financial information.
It’s easy to be taken in because scammers are experts in gaining our trust and preying on our fears.
They will probably make you believe that you have only a limited time to supply the information before you suffer some awful consequence. Often, they have partial information about you already, such as your name and address and sometimes even your Social Security number. This might tempt you to trust that they are official. Don’t fall for it. Hang up.
Scam artists know our weak spots, and they are relentless. They will call over and over and over again, at all hours of the day and night. They can be frighteningly aggressive. They chip away at our resistance and beat us down. They don’t give up easily. The best defense is not to talk to them at all. Hang up.
Medicare knows these criminals are out there, and it has taken steps to help make you safer. A new Medicare ID card replaces your Social Security number with a randomly generated 11-digit code. This card will arrive in the mail automatically if it hasn’t already, and it is free of charge.
No surprise, crooks are already using the new card as an opportunity to perpetrate a brand-new fraud. These new calls ask victims to verify their Social Security numbers as a prerequisite to getting a replacement card. Or, they say that the card costs money and thus demand a processing fee. Other fraudsters tell beneficiaries they are owed a refund from a transaction on their old card and then ask for bank account information to process the reimbursement.
Seriously, you cannot hang up fast enough.
AARP commissioned a survey to assess the extent to which Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders age 50-plus and their families are affected by fraud. The study found that 39 percent have been victims, and one in three of the victims lost money, costing them $15,000 on average. The overwhelming majority of victims (72 percent) experienced an emotional, mental or physical outcome from the experience.
AARP is involved in the fight against Medicare and other scams. To stay on top of fraud schemes that may target you, or if you think you’ve been a victim of fraud, contact AARP’s Fraud Watch Network at (877) 908-3360 or visit https://www.aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork.
Ron Mori is a member of the Washington, D.C., JACL chapter and manager of community, states and national affairs — multicultural leadership for AARP.