Medicare special enrollment period draws out scammers looking to capitalize

Interview edited for length and clarity. Originally aired on KRPS on 11/18/2021

FRED FLETCHER-FIERRO (HOST) : It’s Morning Edition on KRPS; I’m Fred Fletcher-Fierro. Joining me this morning is the Regional Director of the Better Business Bureau in Springfield, Missouri. Stephanie Garland. Good morning Stephanie and thank you for some of your time.

Stephanie Garland, Regional Director of the Better Business Bureau in Springfield, MO

STEPHANIE GARLAND (GUEST) : Good morning, thank you so much.

FRED : This hour we’re talking about, being aware of Medicare and ACA cons, during this special enrollment period. It’s going on right now from October 15 through December 7, next month. What are some of the scams? What are some of the red flags that consumers, when they’re signing up during this enrollment period that they need to be on the watch for?

STEPHANIE : Absolutely. So, unfortunately, this coronavirus pandemic has left many Americans, unemployed and uninsured. Many people are trying to take care of this right now, especially as they’re going into the holiday season in these cold winter months where you might easily get a cold. So to give people a chance to sign up for healthcare coverage, the US federal government has opened up medicare.gov.

It’s from October 15th. So it’s already open right now. Open until December 7th, healthcare.gov is open from November 1st to January 15th, but scammers see these open enrollments as a time to trick people out of their hard-earned dollars and their personal information. So anytime there’s open enrollment for whatever the cause people have questions and concerns.

Which are justifiable. However, what’s not justifiable is scammers coming in and taking advantage of the opportunity. So Fred, what we’re having reported to us as people on the BBB scam tracker are telling us that there are many people who are getting calls or texts from people who are saying, I can help you navigate your Medicare or affordable care act options.

Scammers are actually claiming to be quote, healthcare, benefits, advocates, or similar titles. So watch out. There are new plans are supposedly cheaper. You can keep all the same services. And of course, it’s not legitimate. Fred, what do you think they’re trying to get from you?

FRED : I assume it’s probably your personal information.

STEPHANIE : You would be correct. They’re trying to get your Medicare ID number, your first middle name, last name, there, any information that they can get, they can create a fake profile on you. And they’re actually trying to steal your identity. And in some cases, studies have found that when they steal your identity, they can take up to $70,000 worth of loans out in your name.

So this is something to really watch out for. So be aware that unfortunately, open enrollment scams, they do happen. Now’s the time of year for it. We just finished trick-or-treating but you know what? This is the trick part. So be very cautious, be wary of anyone who is contacting you unsolicited, and of course decline any promotional gifts in exchange for free information or for your personal information. Don’t do it.

FRED : Absolutely. I’ll get mailings. Also from these companies, they look so real, you know, they’re printed in official envelopes and they have all the same, typesetting. It can be difficult. Well, I know they’re fake because I don’t, I’m not eligible for these programs and I have health insurance through my employer, but maybe my neighbor, I know that I live in a neighborhood, particularly if some older folks that can be confused, it can be difficult to tell, what is real and what isn’t.

STEPHANIE : Oh, for sure. Especially when they’re offering, supposedly for you to have any health screenings free, to have free health screenings that are located at your nearest senior center, and then you call the senior center and that doesn’t really exist. So just watch out and be aware that this has happened.

FRED : Absolutely. Where do you go as a consumer besides the better business bureau? Where do you reach out to get som customer service to get some answers? Question questions answered about open enrollment?

STEPHANIE : So the Better Business Bureau always wants consumers to go directly to the source. So go to medicare.gov or go to healthcare.gov. And that way you can contact the legitimate actual officials you can have.

FRED : Is there anything else you’d like to add?

STEPHANIE : If you do, unfortunately, think that you’ve given your personal information to somebody claiming to be with Medicare, you can call this toll-free number one, 1-800Medicare. So again, 1-800-MEDICARE. And of course, with the better business bureau, where for free resource for you.

FRED : Stephanie Garland of the Better Business Bureau in Springfield, Missouri. Thank you for your time.

STEPHANIE : My pleasure.

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