The Medicare Open Enroll Period (OEP) begins October 15; you already know you have a lot to think about. You have to review your current healthcare needs and any changes you expect to happen over the coming year. Then look at changes to your current coverage, and whether your plan still meets your needs. There’s one thing you may not consider, though: Medicare enrollment scams.
Of course, you need to always be wary of criminals scheming to steal your information. But, there are certain times when scammers are extra active and Open Enrollment is one of them. Criminals take advantage of people’s confusion over certain aspects of the Medicare program. This post is intended to help protect you and your valuable information.
What Happens During Medicare Open Enrollment?
The Open Enrollment Period runs from October 15 through December 7. Previously known as the Annual Enrollment Period, this is the time when you can switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage (MA) plan (and vice versa). You can also change MA plans, or find a new Prescription Drug plan.
(If Open Enrollment occurs and you don’t currently have Medicare, you must first enroll in Original Medicare before you can enroll in a Prescription Drug or MA plan.) If you’re new to Medicare or don’t know where to begin, call us toll-free at 855-350-8101. One of our licensed agents will walk you through the process and answer any questions you have.
All of these potential changes are what leave your personally identifiable information vulnerable to scams and identity theft.
What Is Personally Identifiable Information?
According to the cybersecurity firm LifeLock, personally identifiable information (PII), is “any data that could potentially be used to identify” you. Common examples are your Social Security and driver’s license numbers, but PII also includes email addresses and other unique account numbers, such as for your bank account and passport.
When companies report data breaches, what they typically mean is that their customers’ PII has been compromised. Thieves sell this data to the highest bidder. What’s more, different types of PII are more valuable than others.
Medical records are incredibly valuable, because they include so many different types of personal information. In addition to your Social Security Number (SSN), your medical records include your birthdate, current and previous addresses, maiden name if applicable, family information, insurance numbers, and much more. Identity thieves can sell medical records for substantially more than your SSN or even your credit card numbers.
How to Protect Your PII
Guarding your PII is the easiest way to protect yourself against Medicare enrollment scams. Start by protecting your Social Security Number. Store your Social Security card in a safe place and don’t carry it in your wallet unless you need it for a specific reason. And don’t give it to just anyone who asks for it. If someone who claims to be from Medicare calls you and requests your SSN, hang up the phone and call Medicare (the number should be on the back of your Medicare card).
Remember: No one from Medicare will ever call you and ask for your SSN. However, if you call Medicare, they may ask for this information to help identify you.
You should also invest in a shredder to protect your PII. A basic home office shredder only costs around $25. Shred any documents that identify you – even those unsolicited “you have been pre-qualified” notices. Also, be careful about what you share on social media. Identity thieves are pros at putting together PII. When combined with your name, references to where you live, your age, even the name of your pets, make you more vulnerable to criminals who want to steal your information.
How to Identify and Avoid Common Enrollment Scams
The following are the more common Medicare enrollment scams:
- Calls from Medicare to verify information or sell you something: No one from Medicare or the government will call you to verify information or attempt to sell you an insurance product. In fact, almost all communication from Medicare comes through the United States Postal Service (i.e. your mailbox).
- Billing fraud: If anyone, even your doctor, tells you that there is a way around the usual Medicare coverage limits or offers a kickback for your Medicare number, it’s fraud. If convicted, you may face felony charges.
- Fraudulent websites: You may receive an email purporting to be from Medicare that contains a link to the Medicare site or your My Medicare page. Do not click these links! They take you to a site that looks like Medicare, but it is not Medicare. If you’re worried about your account, enter medicare.gov in your web browser or call Medicare directly. (By the way, this is true for bank and credit card accounts, too.)
- Freebie scams: Many scammers use fake giveaways as a way to get your SSN or bank account information. Offers may include free doctor appointments, medical supplies, or lab work. The goal is getting as much of your PII as possible.
- Medigap swindles: These scams are common during OEP. Remember, only private insurers sell Medigap policies. And, legitimate insurers never use scare tactics to sell you a Medigap plan.
- Refunds: Someone may call and claim you have a refund coming due to government changes, class action suits, or any other reason. Typically, it includes a request for your bank account information for direct deposit. This is a scam. If Medicare has a refund for you, it just sends you a check.
- Requesting information to guarantee coverage: Medicare will never call you and ask for billing or personal information to ensure continued coverage.
- Your new Medicare card: Medicare began sending out new cards in April 2018. The process is automatic. You do not need to pay for it or verify any information. You should, however, make sure your address is correct on your MySocialSecurity account, since Medicare uses this address for everything it sends you.
If you believe you’re the victim of a scam, or even just discovered a scam, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission as well as Medicare.