New cards, new scams: Seniors targeted as Medicare rolls out new IDs

A law aimed at reducing fraud and identity theft among Medicare beneficiaries is opening the door to new scams.

Under a 2015 law, new Medicare enrollment cards must be sent to all enrollees between April 1 of this year and April 30, 2019. The cards, which are issued to all seniors within three months of a person’s 65th birthday, will no longer include a person’s social security number. Instead, they will have a randomly generated alphanumeric number. Cards also no longer feature a person’s signature to make it harder for fraudsters to steal someone’s identity.

While the goal is to lessen the risk or seniors’ information being stolen, fraudsters are using the opportunity to target seniors.

Ironically, this has been a great opportunity for scammers to try to take advantage of Medicare beneficiaries in hopes that they don’t really understand the process, so they can capitalize on getting personal identity information and money,” Jeanne Larson, health program associate with Medicare Information Office with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, said.

In one common scam, callers posing as Social Security or Medicare employees ask for bank account or credit card information to pay fees for a new or temporary card. Another scam involves callers asking to confirm personal information from beneficiaries, such as a social security number, Larson said.

All cards are sent out automatically and require no action by enrollees, and no one from the Medicare or Social Security office will ever call Medicare participants, Larson said. Because cards are being sent out automatically, enrollees should contact the Medicare office directly to if they need to update an address.

In Alaska, the card distribution window began April 1 and will end June 30. There have been about a dozen reports of the scams across the state, mainly in the Anchorage bowl, as well as on the Kenai Peninsula and in Nome.

In Kenai, there have been reports of mail scams related to the new cards, Kathy Romain, Kenai Senior center director, said.

One senior recently received a fake Medicare card asking for money, she said. “It looks like a Medicare card, same colors, but it’s actually (from) a lobbying agency trying to get money from them.”

Others have received postcards requesting personal information under the pretense that the info is needed before the cards will be sent out, she said.

Kenai Police Chief Dave Ross said the precinct hasn’t received any reports of scams related to the Medicare cards so far, but said anyone who suspects they have been contacted by a scammer can contact the police.

Kenai police can investigate links to local suspects, but because many scammers come from out of state, or even out of the country, local police may pass along the complaint to federal agencies.

“They are certainly welcome to come here. We’ll help sort them out and get them in touch with the right people,” Ross said.

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