Yvonne Lyon has one of those chilling tales about a door-to-door scam that could make any loved one cringe.
“I invited him into my house, yes,” the 82-year-old said. “I did give him my Medicare number. That’s the one thing I did that I should not have done at all.”
Well, make that two things. Seniors should not spend even five minutes talking to these clowns, let alone letting them into their homes. And they should never give a Medicare number or card to a stranger.
A young man came to Lyon’s door in Clarkston, Washington, this summer with a brochure about genetic screening for crucial cancer prevention. She doesn’t have cancer, and really, there has been very little cancer in her family. But she thought she should get tested anyway.
He convinced Lyon to take a test through a few swabs of her cheek. No money was exchanged. She did hand over a Medicare card, which fortunately was a new card that did not have her Social Security number on it. Even so, her card still has important information that can be used by thieves.
This summer, both the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued fraud alerts about crooks targeting Medicare beneficiaries. The con artists use door-to-door visits, telemarketing calls, Facebook ads, Craigslist and some even set up booths at public events to push supposedly free DNA testing kits.
Crooks are after two things: They’re out to commit identity theft or fraudulently bill the government for thousands of dollars in some cases.
And fraud hotlines are heating up with complaints and concerns.
“It’s one of the more popular calls we’re getting these days,” said Kathy Stokes, director of fraud prevention for AARP.
Lately, she said, some con artists have even begun telling people that their Medicare benefits will be cut if they don’t agree to take this free DNA test.
Callers may claim to be from Medicare and may ask people for their Medicare numbers, Social Security numbers and the like in exchange for DNA testing kits.
“The callers might say the test is a free way to get early diagnoses for diseases like cancer, or just that it’s a free test, so why not take it?” the FTC said in its alert.
Some consumer watchdogs speculate that the DNA-related fraudsters might be playing off the news earlier this year when Medicare issued guidance, saying it would cover on a national basis a Food and Drug Administration-approved genetic test for patients with advanced cancer. But again, this is a very specific group that is seeking further cancer treatment.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said it has been notified that laboratories have been conducting “genetic testing” at health fairs, too. But these tests — when they’re not ordered to be necessary by a physician who is treating the beneficiary — are not eligible for coverage and payment.
It’s important that consumers be suspicious of anyone claiming that genetic tests and cancer screenings come at no cost to you, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
Genetic tests and cancer screenings must be medically necessary and ordered by your doctor to be covered by Medicare, according to CMS.
Random genetic testing and cancer screenings aren’t covered by Medicare. If you’re interested in such a test, you should speak directly with your own doctor.
Scammers still will attempt to bill Medicare anyway for thousands of dollars — and sometimes they get away with it.
The Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department for Health and Human Services said a scammer may falsely state that the patient suffers from a certain condition to make it more likely that the claim would be approved by Medicare.
Scammers know that every claim won’t be approved; so they’re going to flood the zone and aggressively submit as many false claims as possible to make some money.
If one of these fraudulent claims is approved, it still can cause problems for a senior who might want these tests at some point when their health picture changes, Stokes said.
It’s possible that you could be denied coverage later for tests or devices when you genuinely need them. And it’s possible that beneficiaries could end up stuck with a bill.
Crooks want your Medicare number, too
Once the beneficiary’s information is compromised, it can be used in other unrelated fraud schemes, and resold on the black market multiple times.
“One of the highest priced commodities is a Medicare number,” Stokes said.
Remember, if your personal information is compromised, it may be used in other fraud schemes, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services warning.
Sometimes, such as with Lyon, nothing is ever sent. No testing information ever arrives.
Sometimes, a genetic testing kit is mailed to you after you sign up for some service. But the department of health warns that you shouldn’t accept it unless it was ordered by your physician.
“Refuse the delivery or return it to the sender. Keep a record of the sender’s name and the date you returned the items.”
Other Medicare-related scams
The DNA scam is similar to one where con artists pretend to be from the federal government, a diabetes association, or Medicare and then promise “free” diabetic supplies, such as glucose meters or diabetic test strips.
Or someone offers “free” medical equipment, such as back braces, from Medicare as part of a scam.
All you have to do, the fraudsters say, is give your Medicare or financial information. Don’t do that either. It’s a scam.
In the past few years, some steps have been taken to protect consumers who have Medicare cards avoid ID theft.
Last year, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services began mailing new Medicare cards. The roll-out — which was to be completed in April — involved all 58 million current Medicare beneficiaries.
The new ID on the cards has a blend of 11 letters and numbers. The new cards no longer have your Social Security number on them.
But to allow for a transition period, doctors can accept the old cards until Dec. 31.
As a result, some people might still be using the old cards. And fraudsters who ask for a card can always hope that you hand over an old one with a Social Security number on it.
Consumers can call 800-633-4227 to report a scam or suspicious activity to Medicare. If you are charged for a genetic test that you didn’t receive or otherwise believe is fraudulent, call 800-447-8477 for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Inspector General.
Some tips to avoid Medicare-related scams:
Never confirm or give out your Social Security number, credit card number or bank information to someone who calls and claims to be from Medicare. It’s a scam. “Medicare will never ask you to give personal information to get your new number and card,” the FTC said.
Protect your new Medicare card. While the new cards will no longer have Social Security numbers on them, the new cards still have ID information. “You’ll still want to protect your new card because identity thieves could use it to get medical services,” the FTC said.
Make sure to destroy your old Medicare card once you get the new one. “Don’t just toss it in the trash. Shred it,” the FTC said. “If you have a separate Medicare Advantage card, keep that because you’ll still need it for treatment.”
Make sure to monitor your Medicare Summary Notice, which is sent every three months if you get any services or medical supplies during that three-month period. Take a look and see if there are any services you didn’t have or didn’t want that somehow ended up on your bill.