Almost Age 65? Look Out For Medicare Robocalls And Scams
July 9, 2019
High insurance deductibles cause many seniors to postpone medical care in the years before they’re eligible for Medicare. Those people really look forward to their Medicare enrollment date. However, 64-year-olds aren’t prepared for the deluge of junk phone calls (“This is the Medicare Coverage Center. Could I speak to John Smith?“) that await them. Some of the information offered may be helpful, but beware: some are phishing attempts by those who want to steal your money and/or your identity.
Don’t be fooled. Learn how to recognize and combat them.
How To Spot Medicare Scams
It’s actually very easy to spot a scam or sales call because Medicare will not call you and invite you to enroll! Most people don’t realize that, so sales and scam callers use a variety of clever names and caller id information to look legitimate. Things like:
- Medicare Service Center
- Medicare Coverage Center
- Senior Benefits Coverage Bureau
- Senior Coverage Center
- Senior Health Solutions
- Senior Medicare Choice
Some callers will try to convince you to “enroll over the phone” in either Medicare or a Medicare Advantage plan. Of course, this means you’ll have to provide them with the information necessary to complete your enrollment, like your name, address, social security number, birth date, occupation, etc. You may also be asked to provide a bank account number so that your premiums can be paid electronically.
In short, it’s a gold mine of information needed for financial and identity theft.
Note: Medicare may call you after enrollment if you’ve left a message requesting a return call or if a representative has told you they would call back. But they will not contact you prior to enrollment. The agency also offers guidance on protecting yourself from identity theft.
How to Stop Unwanted Medicare Calls
It’s not easy, because phone calls, especially robocalls, are cheap. Even if only 1% of people respond, the scammers can still make money. Here are ways to reduce the amount of calls:
- Register with the federal “Do Not Call” registry: Most legitimate companies will not contact you if your number is on the list. Register your number online here or call 1-888-382-1222 from the number you wish to register.
- Don’t respond to robocalls: Many robocalls have an option to press a number “to be removed from our call list.” In the majority of cases, this doesn’t “remove” you from anything, but verifies that your phone number is valid and that you answer calls!
- Landline call block: Unfortunately, landline phone users have limited call block options. You often have to pay extra to add call block to your line, but may be limited to just a few blocked numbers. Contact your provider for cost and coverage information.
- Smartphone call block: Smartphones offer more call block options than landlines. Your provider may include a call block option as part of your service. If not, there are many apps to choose from. Most are available at little or no cost, but remember that “free” apps usually serve up ads when you use them. Always review the permissions requested by the apps. For example, there’s no reason for a call block app to access your photos, files, or microphone!
- Don’t confirm your identity: Callers may start the conversation with “Is this Mary Smith?” or “May I speak to Mary Smith?” Don’t answer the question, because that verifies that this is a good way to contact you. Just begin with your own question like “What is the purpose of this call” or “Is this a sales call about Medicare?” and end it with a request to remove you from the call list.
Remember: you aren’t in any way obligated to listen to anyone’s sales pitch. Feel free to not answer a call from an unknown number, tell the caller to stop contacting you, or hang up in the middle of a sales pitch. You pay for your phone service; they don’t. File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission each time you get an unwanted call.
In addition to phone calls, you’ll also receive a ton of “informational” junk mail. Be careful about responding to it. Much of it is designed (on purpose) to look as though it’s coming directly from Medicare or the federal government, and it may be difficult to distinguish between that and actual mail from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) and the Social Security Administration. One important clue is whether the envelope’s postage says “PRESORTD or PRSTR STD.” If so, it’s probably junk mail.
How to Get Reliable Medicare Enrollment Information
If you’re close to Medicare enrollment age, start sorting through your options as soon as possible. There is a 7-month initial enrollment period, and it may take you months to review your coverage options, enroll, and be ready when you turn 65.
- gov: Go to the source by visiting the official Medicare Web site. You can review costs and coverage, learn about Medicare supplemental insurance, enroll online, and more.
- Medicare Advantage plans: Medicare Advantage (MA) plans are offered by private insurance companies who offer plans approved by Medicare. You must be enrolled in Medicare to participate. Some offer extra coverage like vision, dental, gym memberships, etc. Your current insurer may contact you about MA plans it offers. You can also research your local MA options at Medicare.gov.
- Call for assistance: The Social Security Administration (1-800-772-1213) can help determine Medicare eligibility, premiums, and eligibility for the “Extra Help” program. Call CMS (1-800-633-4227) for help comparing Medicare plans and coverage.
- Medicare insurance broker: In 2019, the average Medicare recipient had over 20 Medicare Advantage plans to choose from. An experienced broker can help you evaluate all your options and choose the best combination of plans for your financial situation and lifestyle. Learn more about how to choose a Medicare insurance broker.
Information from these sources is going to be more reliable and useful than any robocall or piece of junk mail. Enrolling in Medicare for the first time can seem overwhelming and unnecessarily complicated, so make sure you’re getting good advice.