Medicare open enrollment leaves seniors open to scammers

Crawford Frazer

During Medicare open enrollment (which continues through the end of the year), you may find yourself struggling to understand your options.

Should you go with Plan D coverage? If so, should you choose option 1, 2, 3 or even 12? Or should you opt out of traditional Medicare altogether and select a Medicare Advantage plan? It’s enough to make your head spin. And while you search for the right answer, some crooked insurance agents will mislead you.

Medicare open enrollment leaves seniors open to scammers
Medicare open enrollment leaves seniors open to scammers

Array of scams

Unfortunately, fraudulent agents have become a major problem in recent years. In particular, they prey on seniors — and often in great numbers. Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine notes that many agents have signed up seniors without their knowledge, enrolled them in deceptively limited plans and even stolen their identities. At times, rogue agents have defrauded entire senior residential communities.

AARP identifies a number of common Medicare scams, which often involve an agent claiming to represent “the government.” These schemes have taken the form of TV commercials touting toll-free numbers for “the new government insurance,” door-to-door agents asking for a fee to collect a senior’s $250 government rebate (which Medicare recipients in the donut hole received automatically in 2010) and telemarketers seeking personal information.

All of this means that seniors should be extremely cautious of unscrupulous agents during the Medicare open enrollment period. There are several things to know in order to keep your Medicare coverage — and your identity — safe.

Tips and precautions

The wise choice is to arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible about the various Medicare options before you speak with an agent whom you don’t know well.

The California Department of Insurance gives this advice:

  • Make sure the agent is licensed. You can verify an agent’s status with your state’s department of insurance.
  • Ignore cold calls. If you haven’t asked for an agent to contact you, federal law prohibits an agent from trying to sell to you — whether it’s a phone call, an e-mail or a knock on your front door.
  • Be wary of marketers in educational settings. Again, federal law prohibits agents from marketing to you at any kind of educational event or any place where health care is delivered.
  • There are no Medicare sales representatives. If an agent tries to sell you something on behalf of Medicare, you should report that person to authorities.
  • Guard your personal information. Verify that the agent is licensed and consult someone you trust before divulging your Medicare number, Social Security number, credit card information or any bank account details.Be wary of extras. If you listen to a presentation on Medicare Advantage plans or a prescription drug plan, keep in mind that an agent who tries to sell any insurance beyond those plans is acting illegally.

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