TAYLORSVILLE — For years, Utah seniors have been targeted victims of con artists looking to scam elderly Medicare recipients. Now a change in the form of identification seniors use to access healthcare could also protect them from fraudsters.
The Utah Department of Commerce, the state Senior Medicare Patrol Program and AARP Utah Tuesday announced the introduction of new Medicare cards that will be arriving in the mailboxes of 385,000 Utah residents in the coming weeks. The difference with the new cards is Social Security numbers and gender have been removed to prevent identity theft and keep scammers from using Medicare benefits illegally, explained Francine Gianni, executive director of the state Commerce Department.
"If you happen to lose it and it falls into the wrong hands, you will not have that personal information on it," she said. However, she expressed some concern that seniors could still be targeted in the coming weeks from "official sounding" fraudsters inquiring about their new cards and benefits.
"They could be confused by phone calls they receive from people who are impostors saying they are from the government and they are not," Gianni said. "Never give personal information out on the telephone to anyone you do not know."
Seniors should look for the new cards in the mail and if they haven't received it in the next month or two, call 800-MEDICARE to inquire about getting one, she said.
"It's going to take (at least) through the month of October until everybody receives it," she said. Seniors who receive suspicious calls should report them at 800-541-7735.
Gianni also implored seniors to get help from friends or family members if they think they may be targeted by scammers.
"I sure hope that relatives, sons, daughters, friends and close neighbors are able to help some of these seniors navigate this change," she said.
Officials said that despite the upgrade, con artists have already seized upon the new cards as a way to scam seniors with false claims about how and why the changes were made. However, the new cards allow recipients to get their identification number changed more easily than when Social Security numbers were on the cards, explained Diane Moll, deputy regional administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
"Now if I call and say, 'This was not my (medical claim), somebody got a hold of my number, these are fraud charges,'" she said. "We can turn that number off and create a new one."
She said the hope is the new card will help reduce health care fraud and eliminate identity theft.
"Fraud with (any)body is bad, but fraud with the elderly is particularly bad," Moll said.
She advised seniors to remember that Medicare does not call recipients, so anyone making such a call is a scammer who should be reported. And lastly, if something seems amiss with your Medicare billing summary, inquire immediately with your doctor, she said.
"If anything seems funny or doesn't seem right, speak up," Moll said. "Listen to your brain. If something doesn't seem right, don't be gullible."2 comments on this story
Meanwhile, Darren Hotton, program director of the Utah Senior Medicare Patrol — a program that helps seniors detect and report Medicare fraud — said the new card will help provide some protection for seniors who tend to rely on carrying their Medicare card with them wherever they go.
"They're a vulnerable population," he said. "This is a good way to at least give them some security to know that they can carry it with them and not have the same (potentially negative) ramifications."