Healthcare fraud boomed during the pandemic as bad actors took advantage of the stressful time.
Though the public health emergency stage of the pandemic is over, the scams are still occurring and Medicare card scams are as rife as ever.
In 2023, advocates are warning of bad actors trying to convince people that they’re getting a new Medicare card. The problem? It’s not true.
Medicare has no plans to upgrade or replace cards this year, and the tactic is being used as a way to steal someone’s private information, such as their Medicare card number.
Here’s what you need to know about Medicare card scams, including how to protect yourself and your loved ones from getting harmed by one.
What Is the Medicare Card Scam?
As recently as 2018, Medicare cards showed people’s Social Security numbers. These days, you can imagine why that was problematic. If someone misplaced their Medicare card and the wrong person got their hands on it, identity theft became a cinch.
To alleviate these issues and cut down on fraud, the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services sent out new cards from 2018-19. The upgraded Medicare cards replaced Social Security numbers with a Medicare Beneficiary Identifier or an MBI. The MBI was a random combination of numbers unique to each beneficiary.
It was a reasonable idea, but bad actors pivoted. First, during the rollout, they impersonated Medicare employees, contacted beneficiaries, and told them they needed to shell out processing fees or divulge personal information to get their cards.
Now that the rollout is over, scammers have switched to telling people they need to upgrade or replace their cards. Of course, these bad actors just need a few pieces of private, personal information or money to make it happen.
Medicare Card Scams to Look Out For
Scammers are applying specific tactics to take advantage of Medicare beneficiaries, including:
- Asking you for your MBI so that they can “activate” your new card.
Don’t ever give this number out. Protect it the same way as you protect your Social Security number or any other personal identification.
- Informing you that your current card doesn’t work. “Don’t worry”, they’ll say, “I can help—I just need some personal information, such as your Social Security number, so that I can send you a functioning Medicare card.”
Again, don’t give out your MBI, your Social Security Number or any other identifying information, particularly if you aren’t the person who initiated the phone call.
- Requesting that you pay a fee to receive a new card, like one with a chip or a more plastic card more durable than your paper one.
If you aren’t the one who initiated the call, you can quickly know a scam call when they start asking for money. Don’t pay them and do not give them your bank account information.
- Letting you know that there has been suspicious activity on your Medicare account and demanding you verify your identity. The bad actor may get agitated and threaten to revoke your benefits if you don’t give them the information they want.
If you didn’t initiate the call, just hang up, head to Medicare.gov, and contact them directly to ask about any potential suspicious activity. This way you’ll know you’re talking to a legitimate representative of Medicare.
- Calling out of the blue to register you for a new card.
Hang up. You don’t need a new card.
- Asking for your credit card number to process a new card.
Never give out this information on a call that you didn’t initiate. If you were the one who directly contacted Medicare/Medicaid or another service, it’s probably safe, but still pay attention to what you’re doing.
- Billing you for services at a hospital or doctor’s office that you did not receive.
This is a common form of Medicare fraud. Similar to other advice above, hang up (don’t even be polite about it) and then head to Medicare.gov to contact them directly and ask about any pending bills.
What Should You Do If Someone Tries to Scam You
Even if you don’t give away your personal information, a medicare card scam attempt can feel jarring. It’s a violation of your privacy, so it’s understandable if you feel that way.
If someone contacts you to discuss your Medicare card and it feels suspicious, don’t feel overly threatened. You are definitely not alone in this and you can take steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again—to you or others.
- Hang up ASAP. Don’t engage with the person. They may become agitated or say something that makes you doubt yourself. Trust your instincts and if you’re concerned that it might have been a legitimate call, simply head to medicare.gov and contact them directly to ask about your account.
- Destroy your old Medicare card carefully. If you’re holding on to your old Medicare card, get rid of it by putting it through the shredder. The fewer papers with that information on them, the better.
- Do not give away your personal information. Medicare employees will not call you out of the blue and ask you for personal information like credit card or social security numbers. If in doubt, do not give this information to someone. This rule also applies to texts, social media messengers, and emails, which bad actors are also using more and more. Protect your Medicare Beneficiary Identification number the same as you would any other private information.
- Don’t fall for this common trick. A scammer may know something about you. That doesn’t mean they’re a Medicare employee with access to your file. Bad actors read up on people to craft the person’s disguise. You may have posted that personal information on social media, and they saw it and are now using it to dupe you.
- Stay up to date on other scams targeting older adults. Here at WayWiser, we’re continually reporting on frauds, scams, and exploitations that target the older community. Scroll through our blog, Word to the Wise, and stay up to date.
Important TakeAways Concerning Medicare Card Scams
To avoid getting scammed, it’s essential to remember a few pieces of information about Medicare (and federal agencies generally).
- Medicare does not call people out of the blue and ask for information. Medicare employees return phone calls to answer questions. They do not make unsolicited calls or send random texts or emails.
- Medicare never isn’t regularly replacing cards. And even if a new rollout were happening, Medicare staff wouldn’t make you pay for it or call you up and ask for your Social Security number.
- Medicare would never threaten to cancel your benefits if you don’t give out personal information. Period.
- You don’t have to pay bills for services you never received. Call your doctor’s office, hospital, or insurance company directly to discuss the issue.
Got scammed? Take action. The Federal Trade Commission has helpful advice on how to act quickly if you get scammed, including what to do if you paid a scammer or gave them personal information. You can also file a police report.