With continued technology advancements and the widespread utilization of email and text communications, scammers and fraudsters have become more sophisticated than ever in their tactics targeting Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Medicare beneficiaries. In addition to safeguarding your basic personal information such as your Social Security number and date of birth, your medical information also needs to be safeguarded to prevent medical identity theft, which sadly leaves many Americans facing bills for medical care they never actually received but that was billed in their name by an imposter.
Scammers can target anyone, so we all must be educated on common tricks they use to try to obtain personal, medical, or financial information. To protect yourself and your loved ones, here are some tips for safeguarding your personal information, identifying potential fraud, and reporting suspicious communications you may receive.
Protect your Medicare card just like your Social Security card or a credit card.
In the wake of Medicare’s recent open enrollment season, Medicare enrollees are particularly at risk of falling prey to scammers. Fraudsters may utilize times when coverage and benefits have recently changed, such as Medicare’s recent Annual Election Period (AEP), as opportunities to contact you without drawing attention. They may try to make you think something is wrong with your recent Medicare selections, claim that you need to be issued a new Medicare card, or any number of other things in hopes of getting you to share your Medicare card number or other key information.
Ultimately, remain vigilant and do not give personal information to anyone who asks you for account numbers or financial information, even if the request is seemingly coming from Medicare. Remember that Medicare will never ask you for this type of account information over the phone, nor will they ask for it via text, unencrypted email, or other unsecure forms of communications. If you receive requests from Medicare asking for financial information, do not click on any links, open attachments, or call any numbers in those communications.
Familiarize yourself with Medicare’s actual communication procedures.
If you do receive a scam call claiming you need to provide your personal information, you may feel nervous or worried about your Medicare benefits. Scammers are highly skilled at getting us to let our guard down, and they know how to prey on our anxieties. Phone scams can be particularly convincing, as the pressure to respond immediately is more intense than in digital communications such as email and SMS text. This is why it’s important to over-prepare for the possibility of being targeted by a scammer so you can stay composed and react appropriately. According to Medicare’s website:
- Medicare will never call you to sell you anything or visit you at your home.
- Medicare, or someone representing Medicare, will only call and ask for personal information in limited situations:
- A Medicare health or drug plan may call you if you’re already a member of the plan. The agent who helped you join can also call you.
- A customer service representative from 1-800-MEDICARE can call you if you’ve called and left a message or a representative said that someone would call you back.
- If you filed a report of suspected fraud, you may get a call from someone representing Medicare to follow up on your investigation.
To learn about the ways in which Medicare may use your personal information, visit https://www.medicare.gov/notice-of-privacy-practices-for-original-medicare.
Veterans and Social Security beneficiaries are among the most at-risk groups.
In addition to Medicare enrollees, Social Security Disability Insurance beneficiaries and Veterans remain particularly vulnerable to fraud and scams. In fact, the Social Security Administration (SSA) states that veterans, active-duty service members, and their families are not only targeted by scammers at higher rates, but they are also 40% more likely than their civilian counterparts to lose money to scams and schemes.
Some of the scams that have been recently detected targeting veterans include scammers posing as Veterans Affairs (VA) advisors offering to move veterans’ benefit money to qualify them for a special pension or charging them for the use of direct deposit, as well as scammers representing fake veteran charities or offering special military deals on consumer products like cars, electronics, and more. For a more comprehensive list of currently popular veterans’ scams, visit https://blog.ssa.gov/stay-alert-fraudsters-target-veterans-active-duty-service-members-and-their-families/.
If you or someone you know receives SSDI benefits, you must also be on the lookout for unique tactics targeting disability beneficiaries. Remember, the Social Security Administration will never:
- Text or email images of an employee’s official government identification.
- Suspend your Social Security number.
- Threaten you with arrest or other legal action unless you immediately pay a fine or fee.
- Require payment by retail gift card, wire transfer, internet currency, or mailing cash.
- Promise a benefit increase or other assistance in exchange for payment.
- Send official letters or reports containing your personal information via email.
It’s good to be skeptical – and when in doubt, verify.
It’s best practice to never give your personal information to anyone you aren’t certain is legitimate. Simply hang up, close the email, and cease any communications when you get a bad feeling or have any doubts. Be sure to remember:
- Medicare doesn’t ask for financial information or any personal Social Security/Medicare account information over the phone. To authenticate any communications you may receive, call 1-800-MEDICARE or your legal representative directly.
- If you owe any money to Social Security, they will mail you a letter with payment options and appeal rights. This letter will come from an official government agency, and if you have any doubts about its authenticity, you can contact SSA or your legal representative directly.
- If you receive a phone call, letter, email, text, or social media message that you suspect to be fraudulent, take the extra step of reporting it to the appropriate agency to help protect others.
Report suspected Social Security scams: https://oig.ssa.gov/report/
Report suspected Medicare scams: ReportFraud.ftc.gov
Nothing in this post is intended as advice or a suggestion to elect or not elect to claim benefits of any kind, including Social Security benefits, nor is it intended as financial advice in any way. The decision to claim benefits is a personal one that is contingent upon each individual’s unique circumstances. Nothing herein is considered medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Visit ssa.gov or Medicare.gov for more information about fraud prevention.