Updated: May 31
If you are reading this article, you have probably had your phone ringing frequently from telemarketers. Well, they could be telemarketers, but they may be scammers as well. It seems like 2020 was a breakout year for telemarketers; more people at home equals more chances someone will pick up the phone. This did not go unnoticed from the powers that be. I have personally seen four calls in a single half hour while meeting with one of my clients in their home. I cannot imagine how many calls some of my clients receive in the course of a day.
It has really become out of control. I am encouraged to hear that wireless carriers are developing technology to weed out as many of these calls as possible. In the meantime, here are three best practices to avoid becoming the victim of a Medicare scam.
The Government Does Not Call You
Hang up the phone if someone claims to be from Medicare, Social Security, or the IRS. The government will never call you and ask for sensitive information. Matter of fact, the government does not call period. This is a popular way for scammers to receive your Social Security or Medicare number.
Medicare issued new Medicare cards without your Social Security number in 2017 to help seniors avoid some of these scams. Unfortunately, your new Medicare number can still be used to file false claims or wasteful claims. Government agencies will always communicate with you by mail (or email if you register at medicare.gov).
You should also be awar of Phishing emails, which are false emails created by scammers pretending to be government agencies. You may mistakenly give sensitive information to a scammer if you open one of these emails. Make sure you check the incoming email address before you open an email you think is from Medicare. Official emails from the government or Medicare will always sent by an email address ending in .gov. It is a best practice to call Medicare to verify any information being requested that you are not sure about. You can call Medicare at 1-800-633-4227 to verify.
Nothing Is Free
How many times have you received a phone call from someone claiming Medicare is giving away a free back brace? How about a knee brace or elbow brace? How about a free power wheelchair? Many “fly-by-night” companies are enticing seniors to give their Medicare number and sending items at “no charge”.
The problem is that there is a charge_, a huge charge! Medicare has tracked down many of these companies in the recent years. Surprisingly, it is not just offshore scammers perpetuating these schemes. Doctors and clinics in the U.S. have been caught in these operations as well. Medicare estimated that 6.25% of its claims were improper in 2020. This works out to be almost $29 billion in false claims. These claims hurt all Medicare beneficiaries and contribute future insolvency. Every year, deductibles and co-pays go up. Some of these costs continue rise to make up for fraudulent claims. There are usually local, reputable durable medical equipment companies that your doctor can recommend.
I want to preface this topic by saying you may be able to get good service that is not local. I have met people who have enrolled in their Medicare plans over the phone and they are completely satisfied. They have never seen their agent, but they know how to connect with them. This is the same for some people who have enrolled online. I understand that times are changing and many new-to-Medicare people are already savvy online. Facebook has been a game changer for many baby boomers. Social Media serves as a steppingstone to navigating the internet and is also a great tool to stay connected with family and friends that may not be local, especially during a pandemic.
With that being said, good service stemming from a phone enrollment into a Medicare plan is the exception. I have been busy keeping up with my new clients who have been disenrolled from their plan and enrolled in another by phone. Many times, my clients call me with issues that stem from not knowing they had changed plans. Seniors have no idea who enrolled them into their Medicare plan over the phone nine times out of ten. Telemarketing agents are trying to mass enroll as many people as possible and keep moving to the next; they are not interested in servicing their clients over the long term.
Many of these agents pay for offshore call centers to get Medicare beneficiaries on the phone, and then switch them over to the licensed agent to get the enrollment. This is an illegal practice for agents soliciting Medicare Advantage plans. Agents are prohibited from making outbound calls to solicit these enrollments. Agents paying for call centers to make outbound calls is the same as the agent making outbound calls in the government's eyes. These agents go through yearly certification that makes this truly clear so they know they are doing something wrong. If caught by Medicare, these agents may lose their ability to sell Medicare plans or maybe even lose their licenses.
There is something special about face-to-face communication. For the most part, people feel more comfortable and it makes Medicare easier to understand. I have heard many of my clients tell me this in one form or another for many years. I enjoy getting to know my Medicare clients and try to see them when I am in their local vicinity. I have developed dear friendships with my clients over the years. They know they can call me, and I will be happy to come out to the house and talk about it. Dealing locally also greatly decreases the chances of being taken advantage of. You can see the agent’s physical appearance, licenses, and business card. Technology is great, but it will never replace face-to-face.
If you are in Raleigh Durham area or Eastern NC, I would be happy to answer any questions you may have about Medicare or Medicare plans. You can contact me for more information through ncseniorsolutions.com.