Medicare scams

RX for Medicare discount fraud

Fighting scams is like fighting any disease: Seniors should arm themselves with doses of caution and alertness as they weigh their choices of Medicare discount plans.

The scams

Crooks posing as representatives of Medicare or private prescription plans may offer to “explain” the new coverage to seniors, and “help” seniors sign up. They may fraudulently….

• … request your sensitive personal financial information such as Social Security, Medicare, credit card and checking account numbers. Truth: Crooks can use this information to steal your identity and charge large purchases in your name -- without your permission. Real Medicare drug plans won’t request this information.

• …approach you door to door. Truth: Medicare forbids such tactics unless you invite the marketer into your home.

• …ask you to enroll or pay signup fees over the phone. Truth: Medicare doesn’t permit phone payments. Approved plans can only do general marketing via telephone, and they can enroll you over the phone ONLY if you make the call. Marketers also can make appointments to visit your home to discuss their discount plans. Medicare-approved plans also must comply with federal and state “Do Not Call” laws.

• …ask you to pay signup fees via a website. Truth: Medicare doesn’t permit online payment. Plans must send you a bill if you sign up online.

• …illegally market drug plans before October 1, 2005. Truth: Marketing can’t begin until October 1.

• …try to illegally enroll you before November 15, 2005. Truth: Enrollment can’t begin until November 15.

• …insist you’re required to sign up for the drug coverage or else you’ll lose Medicare benefits. Truth: Signup is strictly voluntary. You’ll keep your Medicare benefits whether or not you sign up.

• …say they’re “official” Medicare representatives, or present “official” Medicare marketing material advertising the new drug coverage. Truth: Medicare employees don’t personally market a drug plan, recommend specific drug plans, or offer government marketing literature. Only private companies market their own Medicare-approved drug plans. They also use their own material; Medicare doesn’t have any. You will receive the Medicare & You handbook from Medicare beginning in October. The handbook provides general information about Medicare and the new drug coverage.

The price you pay

Your sensitive financial information could be stolen. Crooks could make large and unwanted charges against your accounts. Thefts could cost you thousands of dollars, even your life savings.

Fight back

• Never give unknown strangers your Social Security, Medicare, health-insurance or bank-account numbers, or other personal financial information.

• Verify a plan is Medicare-approved before you sign up. Call tollfree 1-800-633-4227.

• Report suspected swindles to the Inspector General’s tollfree hotline: 1-800-447-8477.

• Visit for general information about the discount program.