Q. My mother just told me that she is expecting her new Medicare card in the mail, after having spoken on the phone with someone from ‘the government’ who needed her personal info (name, address, SSN) in order to enroll her for the Affordable Care Act. I’m pretty sure this is a scam, and told her so. But, is there anything we can do to mitigate the damage?
A. You’re absolutely correct; this is a scam, and a fairly common one at that. Most Americans are aware that changes to health insurance will be coming soon under the Affordable Care Act (or, Obamacare) and scammers are using this awareness to gain access to people’s personal information, including social security numbers and bank accounts, which they claim is needed to activate your new account, receive your new insurance card, or retain your benefits.
Senior citizens are especially vulnerable to these traps, and scammers seek out this demographic, betting on the fact that their offers to help navigate the daunting and confusing process of enrollment will pay off. Using your social security number, they can open credit cards and accounts in your name; if bank account numbers are provided to scammers, you’ll likely notice the identity theft more quickly by the disappearance of your funds. The Better Business Bureau, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), in addition to numerous newspapers, networks, and organizations, have issued warnings about this scam and facts that can help identify it.
In fact, no one is able to sign up for the Health Insurance Marketplace under the Affordable Care Act until October 1, 2013, and the changes won’t take effect until January 1, 2014. And a new insurance card? No, there’s no card associated specifically with the Affordable Care Act, nor will you likely need a new Medicare card. For up-to-date information on the Affordable Care Act and the Health Insurance Marketplace, go to: www.healthcare.gov/index.html. There, you can also find “How Do I Apply for Marketplace Coverage?”
The most recent edition of Consumer Connections, published by the California Department of Consumer Affairs, has more information on this scam, as well as helpful suggestions to avoid becoming a victim. If you suspect you or someone you know has been targeted under this scam, there are a few initial steps you can take, such as placing a block on your Social Security account; reporting the fraud to the FTC at www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov; and asking one of the three national credit reporting agencies to place a Fraud Alert on your credit report. The FTC has compiled much more information on identity theft, and further steps you can take to protect yourself, which you can read here.
Do you have a question for the County Law Librarian? Just email email@example.com. If your question is selected your answer will appear in next Thursday’s column. Even if your question isn’t selected, though, I will still respond within two weeks.
Coral Henning, Director