Consumer Health Scare: Beware of Healthcare Provider Scams
Fraud and scams know no bounds.
Criminals have no qualms about using healthcare to defraud their victims, causing more than financial harm in the process. The goal of a scammer is always the same: to get people to divulge their personal information. Fraudsters will try and get Social Security numbers, Medicare numbers, and financial information.
The script a criminal uses changes, depending on the current headlines. The most common: people get a call from someone claiming he's from the government, for instance. The caller will ask for their Medicare number to issue a new card at discounted rates. The scammer may even try and scare the victim using penalties and other fees if they don't take immediate action.
Criminals use email, phone, and even door-to-door scams under the cover of healthcare providers. Again, the motivation is stealing personal information, but why do it through healthcare?
Criminals prey on people's fears of paying penalties, getting sick or missing out on discounts and deals. There are plenty of ways a scammer can make bank in the healthcare sector, and one of them is medical identity theft. Fraudsters steal a person's medical information in the same way identity theft happens (phone, email).
In this case, the criminal can either:
● Sell the medical information to someone who needs surgery, prescription drugs, or medical equipment, or
● Assume the victim's identity and have surgery performed on himself, get medicines or medical equipment, and sell these later.
● Coax the victim into buying medical equipment he doesn't need.
The scammer doesn't pay anything for drugs and procedures. It's the legitimate subscriber who foots the bill, paying for surgeries, and she never had or medical equipment she never ordered. According to the FTC, the total amount of money lost to healthcare scams in 2018 was $4 million.
Robocalls are the go-to method scammers use to steal medical information. These calls leave an automated message if the target doesn't answer the phone. Social Security scam callers don't bother to introduce themselves, but healthcare fraudsters do. They will claim they represent a government agency related to the subject matter.
As stated earlier, scammers use tactics that use freebies or fear to coax people into giving up their medical information. Here are the most common types of persuasion strategies:
● You get a call saying that you have unpaid fines resulting in the suspension of your account. Scammers will leave a number for you to call back.
● Someone calls about getting free medical equipment pre-approved by your doctor.
● Scammers offer you a special offer on a medical service or product that's only available for a limited time.
According to the Office of the Inspector General, the most common scam calls reported were offers for free medical braces. The scammers would tell their victims that all they need to do to get free braces shipped to their address was to provide their Medicare account number. The double whammy here is that the victims also gave their home address.
Criminals target the healthcare industry over others because it's a soft target that has loads of cash. In 2010, the national health expenditure in the U.S. reached an epic $2.6 trillion, which was 17.9% of the GDP at the time. The data is according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), who also project health spending to grow at an average of 6.2% annually up to 2021.
According to the Office of the Inspector General, it's illegal to make unsolicited calls to people to try and get them to buy free medical equipment. The OIG considers this illicit activity as Medicare Fraud, which carries severe penalties when caught. Criminals have evolved with advancing technology, which makes it harder for authorities to go after them. Scammers now use tech to spoof their phone numbers and caller IDs to show that they're calling from a legitimate government agency.
With the ever-increasing number of healthcare scams perpetrated daily, you have to take steps to protect yourself. Remember, Uncle Sam isn't in the practice of making unsolicited phone calls. Like banks, government agencies won't call you and ask for your medical information.
Here are a few tips on how to avoid getting scammed:
- If you suspect the call is suspicious or sounds like a scam, hang up the phone immediately.
- Never give out your personal information over the phone.
- If you receive a call threatening you with fines or jail time, hang up and take steps to block the number.
- Don't carry your health information cards and medical IDs around all the time. Please keep them in a safe place in your home, not in your purse or wallet, and only take them with you when you visit your doctor.
- Scammers are persistent and may call you repeatedly. Ignore these calls, block the number, and report it as spam calls to the FTC's National Do Not Call Registry.
- If you're getting scam email as well as calls, do a reverse email search to see who's sending the emails and report it.
- Keep abreast of the latest news on healthcare scams and medical fraud by reading blogs and other sources.
When the inevitable happens, and you or someone you know encounters a healthcare scam, make sure to report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission immediately. Aside from the National Do Not Call registry, you can file a complaint at ftc.gov/complaint. Take the extra mile and help other people by sharing your experience on blogs and forums.
Warn your older family members or relatives about these scams because criminals love to target the elderly. The BBB also has a Scam Tracker, where you can file a report to help others become aware of the healthcare scam you experienced. Your actions can help others avoid getting scammed.
Emily Andrews is the marketing communications specialist at RecordsFinder, an online public records search company. Communications specialist by day and community volunteer at night; she believes in compassion and defending the defenseless.