Seniors Get Hung Up In Health Care Scams That Are
Increasing Across Nation
Law enforcement agencies report fraudsters seem to
be preying on the senior citizen’s confusion over changes in the health
By Jenny Gold, KHN Staff Writer - Produced in
April 22, 2013 - One recent morning, 86-year-old
Evelyne Lois Such was sitting at her kitchen table in Denver when the
phone rang. She didn’t recognize the phone number or the deep voice on
the other end of the line. “He asked if I was a senior, and I said yes,
and he said we are sending out all new Medicare cards and I want to make
sure I have all of your statistics correct,” Such recounts.
At first, the caller didn’t seem too fishy; he
started by running through her address and phone number, just to make
sure they were right. But then he read off a series of numbers and asked
if it was her bank routing number. “I didn’t know really at the time
whether it was or not, but I just said no. He said, well could you give
it to me so I’ll have it correctly, and I said, well I’m not so sure
about that. And he started to say something and I hung up.”
When the scammer tried calling her a second time,
she hung up immediately, scribbled down the number from her caller ID
and dialed Medicare to report the scam.
"I kind of thought it was funny at first, and then
I thought, you know, how dare they?" says Such. "There are some seniors
who aren’t well and don’t think as well as they used to, and it just
made me angry that they would be victimized like this."
Law enforcement agencies are reporting an increase
these sorts of health insurance
scams across the country. Many of the fraudsters seem to be
preying on the public’s
confusion over the massive changes taking place in the nation’s health
Seniors are often targets
-- they’re more likely to be home to answer the phone, and they tend to
have retirement savings that scammers hope to tap. But they aren’t the
only victims: The federal government received nearly
83,000 complaints of
“imposter scams” last year—up 12 percent from the year before.
“America’s rife with health scams,” says James
Quiggle, communications director at the Coalition Against Insurance
Fraud in Washington, D.C. “Crooks are offering fake health coverage,
stripped down policies masquerading as real coverage. They’re also
selling … fake Obamacare coverage,” he explains.
Recent polls have found
that well over half of Americans say they still don’t understand how the
new health law will affect them. “Crooks are playing on that confusion.
Confusion is a crook’s best friend,” says Quiggle.
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“Fraudsters are as attuned to what’s going on in
the news as anybody else,” says Lois Greisman, who runs the division of
marketing practices at the Federal Trade Commission. “Before Katrina hit
land, websites were up soliciting funds to help victims of Katrina. This
is not a surprise; this is par for the course.” A program as vast as the
health care overhaul makes for a dangerous twist on the regular scams,
Greisman and her team are working to take down the
scams as quickly as possible, but there is an endless number; scammers
range from just your average amateur looking to make a quick buck, to
well-organized crime rings that mass-produce fraud.
“The first line of defense is don’t take a call
from out of the blue from anyone who’s offering to help you navigate the
new health care market,” cautions Greisman. “Those kinds of cold calls
just shouldn’t take place, same thing with an unsolicited email, an
Many people see through those sorts of simple
scams, says Sally Hurme, an elder law attorney at AARP. “But even if
one in a thousand falls for the scam and gives up info or agrees to send
information off to who knows where, they’ve made [the scammer’s] day.
That’s what their job is,” says Hurme. As the Affordable Care Act ramps
up, the country is likely to see more frequent insurance scams, and
they’re likely to get more sophisticated, she adds.
Savvy senior Evelyne Lois Such offers this advice
for others who get a suspicious call: “Don’t answer too quickly. Think
about the answer you give them and what they’re asking.” And never give
up any personal or financial information over the phone.