Avoid Medicare Fraud Identity Theft

Maryalene LaPonsie | January 20, 2012

Medicare is a frequent target for criminals. The federal health insurance program for seniors and the disabled has a complex benefits system that can make it easy for fraud to slip through the cracks. Con artists also may dupe seniors into sharing personal information.

A special government task force is cracking down on Medicare fraud and asking seniors and their families to help.

Common Medicare health insurance scams

Since 2007, the federal government's Medicare Fraud Strike Force has helped bring charges against 1,140 defendants who collectively tried to bill Medicare for more than $2.9 billion in fake claims.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice - which jointly operate the task force -- there are several common Medicare scams in which criminals convince seniors to share personal information.

  • Friendly strangers offering free gifts: Criminals approach seniors in public places such as the grocery store and offer free groceries or other services in exchange for the senior's Medicare health insurance number.
  • Health surveys: Seniors are called and asked to participate in a health survey. As part of the survey, they are asked to provide their Medicare number or other personal information that could be used for identity theft.
  • Telemarketing calls: Similar to the health survey scam, criminals may call seniors and claim to represent Medicare or Social Security. They may claim medical insurance payments are due and ask for payment over the phone or Internet.

Other Medicare scams involve unscrupulous health care professionals who may ask seniors to sign blank medical insurance forms. The FBI warns medical equipment companies can also be a source of fraud. In these cases, the companies offer free medical equipment but say they need to keep the patient's Medicare number on file. The government states there is no reason for companies to collect these numbers for free equipment, and this is a common way to commit Medicare fraud.

Effects of Medicare fraud

While no one knows the full extent of Medicare fraud, past enforcement actions indicate it may cost the government billions. While Medicare offers an affordable health insurance option for millions of Americans, fraud threatens to increase costs.

In addition to rising health insurance rates, Medicare fraud can lead to identity theft. According to the Office of Inspector General, medical identity theft has the potential to ruin your credit or even threaten your life if the wrong medical information finds its way into your health records.

In addition to being vigilant about Medicare scams, the FBI suggests seniors and their family members carefully review statements of benefits to watch for charges that are unfamiliar. If you see questionable charges, call the Medicare hotline at 1-800-MEDICARE (633-4227). Other reports of Medicare fraud can be directed to 1-800-HHS-TIPS (447-8477).

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