The federal government is beginning to send out new ID cards to the 58 million Americans who benefit from Medicare. But since many of the people who will receive them don't know they're coming or why, scammers are already gearing up to take advantage.
An AARP survey shows as many as three-fourths of Americans 65 and older have no idea the cards are coming, so some individuals may be duped with claims that they're supposed to pay a fee or provide personal information that will be used, instead, to defraud them.
The new cards are the first reissue in years, and the most striking part of the redesign is that the cards no longer carry the beneficiary's Social Security number. Congress mandated the removal of that number as an identifier for Medicare beneficiaries by next April. Instead, the card has a Medicare Beneficiary Identifier number, an 11-digit combination of numbers and letters.
The new Medicare cards are now being mailed out in batches, starting with the Eastern seaboard and moving west. Most Medicare beneficiaries will receive their cards over the next six months, as long as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has their correct mailing address. Once the cards are in hand, people can share the new identification number with their health care providers. During a transition period, either card is valid.
The old cards, which used Social Security numbers as the personal identification number, should be destroyed.
AARP recently launched an education campaign to warn consumers about scams related to the new Medicare cards.
The membership organization's "Fraud Watch" consultant, Frank Abagnale — reformed con man, scammer and the subject of the movie and book "Catch Me If You Can" — tells senior citizens the only time they need to carry the actual Medicare card is to health care appointments. Otherwise, it should be left in a safe place. If they want to carry one in their wallet or purse, he says, make a copy and black out the first seven numbers.
Since the cards were announced, scammers have already:
Called seniors and asked for their bank account information so that money on their old card could be returned. There is no money on the old card and CMS never asks for personal information over the phone.
Offered to send the new card after Medicare beneficiaries pay a $25 fee to cover expenses related to the card. The card is free.
Said the card will be mailed out as soon as the older person verifies his or her Social Security number, mailing address and other personal information. CMS already knows the beneficiary's Social Security number and it's no longer being used in conjunction with health care.
AARP and the Federal Trade Commission will hold a free online seminar about the cards and the fraud attempts they have spawned on Thursday, April 19, at 7 p.m. EDT. Register at: www.aarp.org/FraudWebinar. CMS also offers a "frequently asked questions" guide to the new cards.
The AARP Fraud Watch Network says consumers can sign up for its "Watchdog Alert" emails that deliver breaking scam information, or call a free helpline at 877-908-3360 to speak with volunteers trained in fraud counseling. Abagnale also hosts a weekly podcast for AARP, called "The Perfect Scam."