Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

July 21, 2013

Health care fraud

Scammers target Obamacare

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — As if the looming implementation of the Affordable Care Act wasn’t confusing enough, now scammers are trying to take advantage of the consumer confusion through a new identity theft crime.

Scammers hoping to steal the identity of area residents are posing as officials from Medicare, other government agencies and insurance providers in an attempt to trick citizens into providing personal information, including financial information, according to West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. These scams often involve a phone call or unsolicited email, but they may also involve people going door-to-door in neighborhoods.

With many national polls still showing consumer confusion over the Affordable Care Act, it’s not surprising to see that scammers are taking advantage of the turmoil. But their actions are shameful and illegal.

Identity theft is a very serious crime. Those who are responsible for these illegal actions must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

“These scammers are telling people that they need to provide private information such as credit card numbers, Social Security numbers and other personal data, so that they can continue to have health care coverage,” Morrisey said. “If someone calls you out of the blue seeking personal information or to offer you an Obamacare card, hang up. This is a scam.”

The Federal Trade Commission issued an alert earlier this year about a scam in which a person posing as a government official calls consumers under the guise of sending out new national medical cards. The caller then asks the consumer to confirm their name, address, phone number and bank account. The FTC is warning that callers in one scam posed as Medicare employees who were requesting information to ensure the citizen maintained his or her eligibility because “change is on the horizon.” Other scams try to sell poor or nonexistent health care coverage to citizens.

“People who get questionable correspondences should never provide personal information over the Internet or phone,” Morrisey adds. “If you get a call, ask for the caller’s name and number, and if you have access to caller ID, write down that number as well. Or simply hang up.”

Such scams associated with the Affordable Care Act are expected to continue as the October deadline approaches for the implementation of health care exchanges. The new law will require all citizens to carry health insurance, or face a fine.

Morrisey is correctly warning all citizens to be on guard for such fraudulent calls, emails and door-to-door visits.

Anyone who believes they may have been a victim of an identity theft or a scam should contact local authorities immediately. Victims of such crimes can also call the Attorney General Office’s Consumer Protection Division at 304-558-8986 or toll free at 1-800-368-8808.

All area residents should be on alert for such illegal identity theft scams as we enter the implementation phase of the Affordable Care Act. Remember, there are criminals out there who are hoping to take advantage of the confusion surrounding the new law.