As if 2020 has not been stressful enough, now scammers are using the COVID-19 pandemic to prey on Medicare and Medicaid recipients by promising free care to their patients in order to gain their personal and health information, including their dates of birth, social security numbers, and financial data. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General has issued a new warning about these fraudulent schemes and ways to keep yourself safe from this deviance.
Scammers are offering COVID-19 tests and supplies to Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries by phone calls, text messages, social media, email, postal mail, and even door-to-door visits. Do not be fooled by these fraudsters. These scammers cause harm by committing medical identity theft and fraudulently bill Federal health care programs. Know that Medicare will not call beneficiaries to offer COVID-19 related products, services, or benefit reviews.
The internet and social media platforms can be a great way to connect to others, but it also serves as a playing field for scammers to operate. It is important to ignore any offers for COVID-19 testing, vaccinations or test kits. Only your trusted health care provider should be used for these needs.
Sadly, the internet is also being used to price gouge people. Price gouging on items such as toilet paper, disinfectant cleaners, and hand sanitizer have been reported across the nation. It is important to report price gouging on materials related to COVID-19 to the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud at (866) 720-5721.
Phone Calls and Text Messages
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has received reports of spam text messages and robocalls offering free COVID-19 home testing kits, health insurance offers and false cures for the virus.
In March, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General confirmed reports of scams being conducted via the telephone and text messages offering illegitimate COVID-19 tests to Medicare beneficiaries in exchange for personal information.
Email and Postal Mail
Be aware of phishing. Phishing is an email scam where fraudsters trick people into clicking on hyperlinks or downloading attachments that reveal their personal information. Your personal information can be used to steal your identity, apply for credit cards, file taxes, or receive medical services. These acts can ruin your credit and cost you time and money.
Scammers are using the postal system as another way to scam individuals. Social Security recipients reported receiving official-looking documents in the mail making threats that their benefits would be cut off due to COVID-19 office closures. The letters encouraged beneficiaries to contact an agent at a provided phone number where the agent would try and coax the individual to divulge personal information or make payments.
How to Protect Yourself and Others
Although the pandemic fraud is rapidly evolving, there are ways to protect yourself and your family. Here are some tips from the FCC:
- Be wary of unexpected calls, texts, or visitors you do not know offering COVID-19 testing.
- Be suspicious of any unsolicited requests for your personal information.
- Do not respond to text messages or click on hyperlinks from unknown sources.
- Ignore any ads you might see on social media for COVID-19 testing.
- Only your physician or trusted healthcare provider should access you or administer COVID-19 testing and treatments.
- Do not give out your Medicare or Medicaid numbers.
- Protect important paperwork and never share your personal and financial information over the phone, text messages, or email.
- Remember, if you are unsure about something, research it online and find out if it is legitimate.
If you suspect fraud, please take action and report it immediately to OIG.HHS.gov or call 1-800-HHS-TIPS (1-800-447-8477).
CDC, Buyer Beware: How to Avoid Scams & Misinformation during COVID-19
OIG/HHS, 5 Things About Covid-19 Fraud