Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Business

Beware of con artists trying to cash in on Obamacare

Consumers weren't able to sign up for insurance under new health care exchanges until last week, but con artists have been scheming for months to steal money or Social Security numbers under the guise of the Affordable Care Act.

And it's bound to get worse, regulators and consumer advocates fear.

"They will use whatever new thing is on the horizon," said Kim Cammarata, director of the health education and advocacy unit of the Maryland Attorney General's Office.

Regulators and consumer advocates have been working to get ahead of the scammers. The Federal Trade Commission recently held a public meeting on how to protect consumers against fraud with the arrival of health care marketplaces. And the Better Business Bureau, Consumer Federation of America and others have published tips to help consumers recognize fraud.

"We don't want to frighten people off of taking advantage of this new benefit," said Susan Grant, director of consumer protection with the Consumer Federation of America. "But we want them to be careful about it."

Here are things to be on the lookout for as you navigate the new exchanges:

Help is free. Don't pay for it: Similarly, don't take calls from strangers offering to sell you an Affordable Care Act-compliant policy in exchange for your credit card number, said FTC spokesman Frank Dorman.

New insurance cards: The Better Business Bureau recently reported that consumers received calls from a scammer claiming to be from the federal government and telling them they were chosen to receive insurance cards through the Affordable Care Act. The caller said the consumers needed to provide bank account and Social Security numbers before the cards could be mailed out.

Policy pushers: If you're on Medicare, you have already met the government mandate to have insurance next year.

That might not stop someone from trying to sell you a policy anyway. But it's illegal for a person who knows you have Medicare to sell you a policy on the exchange.

Medical discount cards: Under this scheme, you're sold a card that's supposed to provide discounts at doctors' offices or at drugstores.

"Sometimes they are misleadingly promoted as insurance," said the Consumer Federation's Grant. "And you get this discount card that may or may not be honored by anybody."

That's not Obamacare calling: Don't let your guard down if Caller ID shows that the caller appears to be from the government or other legitimate source, said Jody Thomas, vice president of communications with the Better Business Bureau of Greater Maryland. Con artists have technology that can "spoof" Caller ID, making any number or name they want show up on your screen, she said.

Uncle Sam prefers snail mail: If the federal government is going to contact you, it's not going to be by email or text message, Thomas said. The government typically contacts consumers via the U.S. Postal Service.

If you suspect fraud, you can report it to the FTC toll-free at 1-877-382-4357.

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