Scammers using health-care act as tool to swindle Medicare recipients

Posted Oct. 24, 2013, at 7:33 a.m.
Last modified Oct. 24, 2013, at 7:56 a.m.

Al Kulas, the longtime weekend morning host on WKBK radio in Keene, thought the phone call was legitimate at first.

A representative purportedly from Medicare called him at his Winchester home early Wednesday afternoon, saying Kulas needed to update his Medicare card as required in the Affordable Care Act. Kulas’ caller ID showed it was coming from a 617 area code (Boston), and the voice sounded professional enough.

The caller asked for his name, mailing address, phone number. Then he asked Kulas for his Social Security number and bank account information.

“I’ll tell you what, I almost got sucked into it,” Kulas said. “All of a sudden I said, ‘Wait a minute,’ and I asked for a manager.”

Another voice came on the phone, then another, trying to cajole Kulas into giving up the information. By then he was well aware it was a scam, hung up, and later learned that the number appearing on his caller ID was out of service.

Such scams are becoming more and more prevalent, especially against senior citizens, said FairPoint Communications spokesman Jeff Nevins. What happened to Kulas is typical, he said, except many people fall for it and lose thousands of dollars. The new health care law is just one of many ploys scammers are using to pry credit card and bank account information out of people.

Kulas immediately called FairPoint’s security division, where an investigator took his information. The investigator said company policy forbids her to talk publicly, but she confirmed that Kulas’ account follows a scammer’s playbook. She added the phone call may have originated from India.

But Kulas didn’t stop there. He also called Medicare’s fraud division and the Inspector General’s Office in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to file a formal complaint.

A spokesman in the Inspector General’s Office said the health care law has become a primary target for scammers through sham websites, people asking for money beforehand to enroll in the marketplace and mail and email solicitations.

Nevins said it’s important to know Medicare representatives will never call an individual randomly unless the individual has called first. And the health care law has no effect on Medicare.

Kulas said he knows scammers prey on confusion and the unknown among senior citizens.

“Older people are worried Obamacare will change Medicare,” Kulas said. “I’ve had (FairPoint) security people on (the radio) with me before just to spread the word, especially to older people. … I do know a lot of my listeners are the older crowd and I don’t want to see somebody sucked in.”

Unfortunately, Nevins said, it happens all the time. He said he knows of a woman in northern Maine who lost $800,000 to scammers. Others will call crying, saying they’ve lost everything and are too humiliated to even tell their families.

Typically, scammers will call and say you’ve won free airline tickets or the lottery, but need to secure the winnings with a deposit. One of the most prevalent even has its own name — the Jamaican Scam — because it has swindled so many people and is rooted in Jamaica, he said.

The Better Business Bureau warns the Jamaican Scam is extensive, and has swindled U.S. citizens out of millions of dollars. An anonymous caller will tell people they’ve won the lottery, new cars, high-definition TVs, or offer to help with loans and repairing credit. The bureau warns any incoming phone number showing an area code of 876 might be associated with the Jamaican Scam.

“It’s very sophisticated. They’re well-trained, they’re very persuasive and they will go between being your friend … to the point where they’ll browbeat you and then they’ll go back to being your friend again,” Nevins said.

They’ll even use Google maps, zeroing in on victims’ homes and using local landmarks to trick people into thinking they’re locally based. They’ll say they’re down the block, describe the new car in a neighbor’s driveway, the color of their shutters.

“As soon as they get their hooks in, they keep trying to pull more and more money out of them,” Nevins said. “Once you start down that road, they’ll just keep coming back.”

Distributed by MCT Information Services

 

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