The phone rings.
The caller says he’s a rep from a government agency.
“We need to verify some information to make sure you get the coverage you’re entitled to under the Affordable Care Act,” the caller says.
You know big insurance changes are coming, but they’re not coming like this.
The caller is a scammer using the Affordable Care Act, commonly called “Obamacare,” as a new way to prey on unsuspecting victims.
The Federal Trade Commission said “Obamacare” has given con artists new opportunities to scare people into falling for their tricks. The FTC has received about 100 Affordable Care Act-related complaints in the past few years.
The FTC said it expects complaints to rise significantly once health insurance exchanges are in full swing.
Make sure you’re not a victim.
GETTING REAL INFORMATION
Hang up on anyone who calls about the Affordable Care Act, and ignore e-mails on the topic.
To apply for health insurance without the scams, start with the Health Insurance Marketplace on healthcare.gov.
Before you visit the site, make sure you type the address correctly. Some shady types have started websites that are just one mistyped letter away from the real thing. The fake sites look authentic, and some may even post official-looking government seals and logos to deceive you.
“(The fake sites) may contain the actual seal of the real insurance exchanges, but likely simply exist to load malware onto your computer or collect your personal information,” said Emily Peters of Practice Fusion, a San Francisco-based electronic health records company.
Also know that any offer to enroll in an exchange before Tuesday is bogus — the exchanges are not available until Oct. 1.
Seniors are prime targets for scammers. If you already have Medicare or Medicaid, you don’t need to do anything, said Douglas Johnston, AARP’s government affairs manager in New Jersey.
Consumers should never give out personal or financial information in response to unsolicited phone calls, e-mails or knocks on your door by people without proper identification, the FTC said.
If scammers get your information, they may commit identity theft, charge your credit cards, debit your checking account or open new credit cards or bank accounts. They could try to take out loans in your name, or trick you into buying or mailing “pre-paid cards” to pay for coverage.
“Consumers must be vigilant,” said Eric Kanefsky, director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. “Con artists are constantly seeking new ways to dupe victims into giving up their bank account information and opening themselves up to identity theft. During the coming months, many will prey on confusion about the Affordable Care Act.”
MOST COMMON BAD-GUY METHODS
1. E-mail come-ons: You may receive legit e-mail offers, but e-mail is also a favorite method for hustlers.
“(Consumers) should not respond to e-mail or text links from people or organizations they don’t know,” Johnston said. “Before they enter sensitive data, look for signs that a webpage is secure — a web address with ‘https’ and a closed padlock beside it. Never give sensitive info — like an account number or password — or call a number in response to a request in an e-mail or IM or on a social network.”
2. Phone calls: No government official will call and ask for confidential information, but con artists may.
Earlier this year, AARP received complaints from seniors who were told they’d lose their Medicare coverage if they refused to share their Social Security numbers and other private information over the telephone. The seniors were told the information was needed so they’d receive their new “national health insurance card” under the Affordable Care Act.
Those calls were phonies.
3. Scare tactics: The Better Business Bureau said some fraudsters have tried to intimidate consumers into disclosing information by claiming “it’s the law,” or that “the government now requires it.” Some customers have even been threatened with jail time if they do not purchase what are fake insurance cards.
“The only financial penalties associated with families and individuals that don’t obtain insurance doesn’t take effect until 2014 and contains no jail penalty,” BBB said.
4. Wire fraud: The FTC said fraudsters have directed consumers to wire money or send funds via a prepaid card if they want the full benefits of “Obamacare.”
REPORT ATTEMPTED FRAUD
If you get a phone call or e-mail that smells fishy, report it.
If you realize you gave your personal information to someone in error, contact your credit card companies, banking institutions and the three credit bureaus to make sure no one has used your information for nefarious deeds.
WHERE TO REPORT SCAMS