Local seniors get lesson on Medicare scams

The Scherer Community Center offers ongoing classes and seminars for seniors. It’s located at 12202 First St. in Yucaipa.

Renato De Moraes, community education and outreach coordinator for the Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program, presented a workshop at Scherer Community Center on the afternoon of June 25 to warn seniors about Medicare fraud. Though just five seniors attended the workshop, De Moraes emphasized the importance of awareness regarding current scams and spreading the word to others. Scams designed to obtain seniors’ Medicare numbers, which are subsequently used to commit medical identity theft, are currently run by networks of scammers who initiate contact with seniors through email, traditional mail, and phone calls.

A common one is the “Yes” phone scam, which begins as soon as someone answers a phone call. Someone asks, “Can you hear me?” Many people would respond, “Yes.” The “yes” response is recorded, providing scammers a voice signature they could use in future phone calls to authorize fraudulent charges.

Another one is the “Grandparent Scam,” which has cost thousands of dollars to senior citizens. A con artist calls and says, “Hi, Grandma,” or “Hi, Grandpa, it’s me.” A grandparent may provide the con artist his or her grandchild’s name in response, by asking, “Is that you, Paul?” The con artist, pretending to be the grandchild, will claim to be in trouble and require money to be bailed out of prison or another distressing scenario.

“Scams are tailored to match your life, designed to make you listen and pay attention, then they’ve got you,” said De Moraes. Once the conversation starts, scammers pressure victims to act quickly; they don’t want to allow people time to think before robbing them over the phone. De Moraes gave tips for recognizing and avoiding scams.

• Don’t answer phone calls from unknown numbers. Adding your number to the Do Not Call Registry won’t prevent scam calls, since only legal businesses will obey the rules. Recently, scam callers have been using the target’s area code - 909 for Yucaipa and Calimesa - because people are more likely to pick up. Yet De Moraes’ “rule of thumb” is to always let an unknown number go to voicemail.

• Don’t carry your Medicare card with you. Though the new Medicare cards are safer than the old ones since they no longer have social security numbers on them, the Medicare number is valuable to con artists. De Moraes suggested treating a Medicare card like a social security card and only carrying it for a specific purpose.

“In an emergency, you will be taken care of regardless,” said De Moraes. He also noted that Medicare will not call to ask for your Medicare number. Disclosed Medicare numbers have been used by fraudulent businesses to peddle unneeded wheelchairs, back braces, and other items to thousands of seniors. Con artists have been caught using profits gained from the scheme to buy luxury cars, yachts, and mansions, according to the Department of Justice.

“The problem is they mix half-truth with a lie, and that’s how they get you to listen,” said De Moraes. Medicare only sends free items that have been prescribed by a doctor. However, Medicare doesn’t check to make sure orders are legitimate, so seniors must have discernment to recognize possible fraud.

• Call and ask for an Explanation of Benefits if you don’t receive one every month. “It’s like a credit card statement,” said De Moraes. Carefully checking the statement is important because there could be mistakes, such as being charged more than once for a doctor appointment.

• Pay attention to the fine print. Beware of what De Moraes described as “legal scams.” He used medication commercials as an example; while talking about potentially fatal side effects in a “soothing voice,” an ad may show a pleasant scene such as people walking at the beach, “having a great time.” Pharmaceutical companies evade responsibility for cases of deadly side effects because, technically, they told the truth about the product.

“Think of all the money involved in the pharmaceutical companies,” said De Moraes. “I encourage you to think for yourself. Sure, you can take a pill for vitamin D, but you could also go in the sun.”

Modern technology has made scamming easier and more complex than ever; almost every individual’s age and address can be found by searching for his or her name on Google. Con artists also use Facebook “likes” to data mine and craft scams targeted specifically toward a victim’s interests.

“I wish I could just tell you the world is wonderful and full of flowers, but the point I’m really trying to make is be aware it’s happening every day,” said De Moraes. “Consider the information you’re putting out there, because not everyone is your friend.”

If you suspect you have been a target of a Medicare scam, report it to Senior Medicare Patrol by calling 1-855-613-7080. HICAP also provides free Medicare counseling at the Scherer Community Center, located at 12202 First St. in Yucaipa. For more information, visit coasc.org or call HICAP at 256-8369.

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