"Obamacare" Changes Spark Spate of Scams
From the October 9, 2013 online issue of Scambusters, Issue #565
Whether you're for it or against it, the machinery of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), often referred to as "Obamacare," is now in action -- and so are a number of scams that have followed in its wake.
We don't do politics here at Scambusters. There are other forums for that. We also can't explain how the Act works, provide advice or answer questions about it -- for info on that you need to visit www.healthcare.gov.
But what we can say is that the changes to the healthcare system introduced by the new law, notably the arrival this month of the new insurance exchanges or marketplaces, have led to some confusion.
And where there's confusion, there are scams. Here are the main ones:
Fake Insurance Exchanges
Even before the medical insurance marketplaces were launched at the start of this month, bogus sites were all over the Internet.
Many were trawling for information but some were also trying to get people to sign up and make payments.
Action: Each state is supposed to have a marketplace. There are no others, or private versions of them.
Most states are using the official healthcare.gov site for their marketplace but 17, plus the District of Columbia, have their own unique sites.
Either way, get your state's information, and links where relevant, here:
Don't sign up without checking this and making sure you have the correct links.
Bogus Medicare Card Renewal
You get a call or email saying you need a new Medicare card because of the changes brought about by the Act.
The caller may even say something like "Obamacare is replacing Medicare."
Victims are asked for financial and other personal information including their Medicare number, which contains their Social Security number.
The information is used for identity theft.
Action: You don't need a new Medicare card and you shouldn't provide this sort of information over the phone or by email to someone you don't know.
If you're not sure what to do, hang up or ignore the email and contact Medicare directly with your questions.
"You Need a New National Insurance Card"
As a variation on the Medicare card trick, crooks have been phoning people at random saying they need a new federal health insurance card.
They pose as government officials and, in some cases, they refer to these as "Obamacare cards."
Action: Hang up. There's no such card. It's just another phishing attempt to get hold of personal information.
Also, government agencies don't make this type of call. This kind of change, if it were even happening (which it is not), would be notified by mail.
Phony Young Adult Policies
One of the real provisions of the Act allows for young adults up to the age of 26 to remain on their parents' health insurance plan.
Seizing on this, scammers claim this still requires a separate policy, which victims are told they must pay for.
Action: This doesn't stand up to scrutiny. The whole point of the provision is to keep young adults on their parents' policy, so don't be taken in by this.
Anticipating confusion, the government has given grants to a number of organizations to train so-called "navigators" and "certified application counselors" to explain the new system and help people get insured.
From our research, there's some confusion about whether these navigators may be allowed to ask for confidential information. But certainly they're supposed to be able to help complete eligibility and enrollment forms.
So it's hardly surprising that this may be seized upon by scammers as an opportunity to present themselves as navigators, offering help for a fee -- or gathering personal information for ID theft.
It's also possible, though we've no evidence for this yet, that bogus recruiters may offer jobs as navigators, with an upfront fee for training.
Action: Don't pay for support. If you're asked to pay upfront for help or to get a job, it's likely a scam.
At the time of this writing, expected formal guidance on how to identify genuine navigators has not been published.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said it was awaiting details of certification standards from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services before issuing guidance.
By now, you should be able to visit www.ftc.gov and do a search on "navigators" for more information.
Otherwise, you can see a list of all the grant-aided organizations here:
Independently check with these organizations for help -- don't accept incoming phone solicitations.
You may get doorstep solicitations too. They could be genuine but don't part with any confidential information at that point.
Alternatively, speak to your trusted, state-certified insurance broker for no-cost help.
Because there are legal requirements and penalties associated with non-compliance with the new law, crooks use this to try to intimidate people into paying into their schemes or giving up information.
In some cases, they've actually threatened victims with jail if they don't comply.
Action: The Act does provide for fines for non-compliance but that won't take effect until next year, and there's no provision for a jail sentence in the Act.
So if someone's threatening you, the call is not genuine. Hang up.
All in all, we expect to see a big increase in the number of scams linked to the Affordable Care Act in the coming months.
There's a risk that even savvy consumers could be fooled into parting with money or information.
Once again, if you want to know more about the Act and how it affects you, see www.healthcare.gov or phone 1-800-318-2596.
We're not advancing any view of whether or not Obamacare is a good thing, but we are saying you should be on the alert for related scams that, most definitely, would be bad for your health!