Safer Medicare Cards in Future Prompt Vulnerability Now

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runs each year from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7, providing a special window of opportunity for various scams. But none is as widespread and successful as this one:

Posing as employees from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) or other government agencies, fraudsters claim in phone calls or unexpected home visits that new cards are being issued and that, for you to continue to receive your benefits, the agency must “verify” or “update” identifying information. That includes your Medicare (a.k.a. Social Security) number, birth date or even financial accounts — the cornerstone details to steal your name and money.

This year, scammers have persuasive new ammo — and ironically, it’s because of the very law intended to protect Medicare beneficiaries from identity theft in the future. Six months ago, President Obama signed a bill that will (finally) stop imprinting Social Security numbers on Medicare cards. Congress has provided $320 million over four years to pay for new Medicare cards that will carry a randomly selected number instead of the cardholder’s SSN.

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So in the coming weeks of open enrollment, with Medicare in the news and on the minds of those 65 and older, expect scammers to exploit the “new card” angle with a slightly tweaked script … and convincing believability. What you may hear:

“Hello, I’m from Medicare and have good news: To protect you from identity theft, we are issuing new Medicare cards and numbers that no longer will be your Social Security number. But before we make that switch, I need to verify your current information. I know that may sound like a scam, so I encourage you to authenticate all this. I can provide you with specific citations or computer links, but perhaps the best way is to go to your computer and in a search engine, type ‘New Medicare cards will not display Social Security numbers.’ I can hold if you want.”

Google that phrase and search results display such headlines from the SSA website and New York Times. (No doubt, using Caller ID that falsely displays “Medicare” or “CMS” also helps scammers. So does already having your name, age, address and phone number gleaned from public directories or purchased lists.)

Don’t be fooled. Here’s what you need to know:

* SSN-absent Medicare cards will be issued to new beneficiaries over the next four years, and existing beneficiaries will get new cards in the following four years. So if you’re currently on Medicare, figure on waiting at least until year 2020 before receiving a card without your Social Security number.

* Medicare will not phone you asking for personal information such as your Medicare number. Nor does Medicare email or visit your home unannounced to “update” or “verify” data that, after all, it already has. As a general rule, official correspondence from any government agency is mailed, and it arrives via the U.S. Postal Service.

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* Open enrollment is also prime time for unsolicited calls touting “free” supplies for diabetes and other conditions, along with complimentary checkups at makeshift storefront clinics. These also can be schemes to get your Medicare/Social Security number. Learn more here about other open enrollment schemes and common cons.

For information about other scams, sign up for the Fraud Watch Network. You’ll receive free email alerts with tips and resources to help you spot and avoid identity theft and fraud, and gain access to a network of experts, law enforcement and people in your community who will keep you up to date on the latest scams in your area.

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