5 Obamacare Scams and How to Avoid Them

Wednesday, 30 Oct 2013 09:44 AM

By Nick Tate

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The glitches that have hobbled the rollout of the Obamacare Affordable Healthcare Exchanges and the news that thousands will be dropped from their health plans — despite assurances that wouldn't happen — aren't the only problems facing consumers. Security experts are warning that Obamacare has also opened the flood gates for scam artists.
 
Numerous reports across the country have cited fraudsters hawking bogus non-existent "Obamacare cards," masquerading as government employees offering assistance, and creating phony websites that look like the official HealthCare.gov site consumers can use to sign up for insurance plans through the new marketplaces.
 
"Confusion about what exactly the Affordable Care Act means for consumers and businesses is what con artists prey upon," said Karen Nalven, president of the Better Business Bureau serving West Florida. "Scammers' favorite tools are confusion and fear."
 
Editor's Note: ObamaCare Is About to Strike Are You Prepared?

Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said this month that federal officials are cracking down on Obamacare-related scams. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius also noted regulators have added safeguards to protect consumers from health-insurance fraud.
 
"We are sending a clear message that we will not tolerate anyone seeking to defraud consumers in the Health Insurance Marketplace," said Sebelius, who testified before Congress Wednesday about problems with the healthcare law. "We have strong security safeguards in the marketplace to protect people's personal information against fraud."
Here are five common Obamacare scams and how to protect yourself.
 
No. 1: Bogus Obamacare cards. The Better Business Bureau reports numerous complaints from consumers who have received phone calls from individuals claiming to be government officials offering new health insurance cards they say are required by Obamacare. Consumers are asked to provide bank account and Social Security numbers to claim their card. But the truth is: There’s no such thing as an Obamacare card.
 
"This is the latest twist on the 'Medicare scam' that BBB has seen for years," said the BBB's Nalven. "Whenever there is a new government program or new public policy, fraudsters will take advantage of people. But the simple fact is there is no Affordable Care card. It's a scam."
 
The Houston Chronicle reported scammers have also threatened consumers with jail time if they don't purchase the fake insurance cards. Con artists in other states have reportedly offered insurance discount cards or discounted plans for prescription medications — and asked to be paid upfront via Western Union or prepaid cards, according to Scambook, a consumer complaint Website.
 
Identity theft experts recommend taking the following precautions when dealing with such scams:
  • Never give personal information to someone who contacts you unsolicited by phone, email, social media, or in person.
  • Hang up, don’t press any buttons, and don't call back.
  • Be aware that government agencies communicate primarily through the mail.
  • Never give out personal information such as credit card numbers, bank account numbers, date of birth, or Social Security numbers to unfamiliar callers.
No. 2: Fake government employee solicitations.  Consumer affairs officials in Florida, California, and other states with large senior populations have reported cases of con artists offering to help sign up older residents on Medicare for coverage through Obamacare.
 
Callers typically say they need to confirm the identity of the folks they call and ask for Social Security numbers and medical info. The scammers bank on many seniors falsely believing Medicare benefits are changing under Obamacare (they aren't). Some seniors are also confused by overlapping sign-up periods for Medicare (from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7) and the Affordable Healthcare Exchanges (Oct. 1 to March 31).
 
To protect yourself:
  • Medicare beneficiaries need to know they don't have to do anything differently this year and will continue to go to Medicare.gov to sign up for plans.
  • The exchanges are only for people who don’t qualify for Medicare, Medicaid, or get insurance through their employer. Those individuals can sign up for health insurance through the exchanges by visiting HealthCare.gov, or calling 800-318-2596.
  • Federal agencies rarely contact Medicare recipients by phone — they typically use mail instead — so if you receive a phone solicitation, hang up immediately.
  • Never give out personal information, and if you have mistakenly provided information to someone you think is trying to rip you off, contact your bank, credit card providers and the three major credit bureaus — TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax — to monitor for potential identity thieves.
 
No. 3: Obamacare "navigator" imposters. Obamacare relies on a team of designated advisers called "navigators" to help individuals sign up for insurance through the Affordable Healthcare Exchanges. But scam artists are calling and emailing unsuspecting individuals — in Kansas, Alabama, and other states, according to Fraud.org — posing as navigators in an attempt to gain your personal information or steer you to phony insurance policies.
 
What you need to know:
  • Obamacare navigators generally work at nonprofit organizations like the United Way and local agencies.
  • You can find qualified help from a navigator by visiting the Localhelp.HealthCare.gov Website or calling 800-318-2596.
 
No. 4: Fraudulent Obamacare Websites. It's a common scam after a natural disaster: Websites appear that seem to be run by well-established legitimate charities or government agencies but are actually fraudulent sites designed to separate you from your money.
 
Officials report the same trend is happening with Obamacare with bogus Websites — such as the phony Pennsylvania Health Exchange and others of its type in Massachusetts and elsewhere — masquerading as online resources run by insurance companies and regulators, according to the Web-based consumer safety organization Fraud.org.
 
To protect yourself:
  • Work with reputable insurance agents or legitimate Websites (such as esurance.com).
  • Access your state's healthcare exchange by going through HealthCare.gov only.
  • If you aren't certain whether a Website is legit or not, contact your state's Department of Insurance or call officials at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services at 800-318-2596. 
No. 5: Medicare scare ploys. AARP has received many complaints from people over 65 who were phoned by individuals claiming they are about to lose their Medicare coverage or that Obamacare is replacing their plans — and asking for their Social Security number and other private information to keep their plans intact.
 
But such claims are not true, AARP notes. The truth: It's unlawful for insurers to sell an Obamacare health exchange policy to anyone on Medicare.
 
To protect yourself:
  • For legitimate information on the Affordable Care Act, go to HealthCare.gov; for bona fide details on Medicare, visit Medicare.gov.
  • Ignore unsolicited calls or emails about Obamacare and Medicare.Report any suspected scam, by calling 800-318-2596. 
Editor's Note: ObamaCare Is About to Strike Are You Prepared?


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