By Curt Buckley
Confusion is a funny thing. It can lead to anger, doubt or misunderstanding. But in all instances, confusion impairs judgment. And cloudy judgment is where scammers and swindlers thrive.
With the calendar winding down on the March 31 deadline to get insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace, crooks are jumping at the opportunity to fool Texans who are unsure about what’s really required of them. Swindlers take advantage of misconceptions regarding the new health care law to mask their ploys with convincing and legitimate sounding rhetoric. Their schemes, which are far from legitimate, can be more easily spotted if you’re aware of the common red flags associated with them.
Some anti-scamming basics to keep in mind: Under no circumstances should a Health Insurance Marketplace representative contact you by phone or email unless you’ve already contacted them or applied for insurance through the Marketplace. The provision in the law that stipulates that everyone must have health insurance makes a ruse like this easily believable, but the Marketplace would never just contact you out of the blue.
A real representative will give you his or her full name and agent ID number. Additionally, if you are talking with a Marketplace representative, there are some things the official may ask, and other things will be out of bounds. For example, a representative is never going to ask for financial or personal information such as a bank account number or full Social Security number–or show up at your house uninvited. Indeed, most government agencies typically communicate by mail.
To verify your identity, a representative may ask for the last four digits of your Social Security number that you provided on your application–or perhaps for additional income, household or employment information. Just remember: You will not be required to give out specific financial details or your medical history to a legitimate Marketplace representative.
Consumers should never have to pay for services or aid when applying for coverage through the Marketplace. There are trained navigators and counselors to help you apply for insurance at no cost. Do not deal with anyone offering help with the process in return for payment.
Be wary of contact numbers left on your voicemail from anyone claiming to be from the Marketplace. A representative will not leave a call back number on a voicemail. If the representative fails to reach you after three tries, you will receive a letter on what to do next.
Another common trick is asking you for personal information so they can send you a new “national health insurance card.” You are not required to get a new Medicare card under the Affordable Care Act. And a huge red flag should go up if the term “Obamacare” is used by someone claiming to be legitimate.
No doubt, these scammers are slick. It’s hard to detail all of the ways they might try to trick you, so the best defense is due diligence.
Be attentive, and do your homework. Purchasing health care coverage is an important decision and should command appropriate attention. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if anything is unclear. Keep a record of whoever might be trying to “assist” you. Write down everything you can about them: full name, who they work for, telephone number, street address, mailing address, email address and website.
If something sounds the least bit fishy, check on it. Go to Healthcare.gov or call the Marketplace at 1-800-318-2596 to verify.
Finally, if you suspect fraud or feel that you might have compromised your personal information, use the Federal Trade Commission’s online complaint form, and contact your local authorities.
This might seem like a lot of trouble, but it’s nothing compared to the trouble one of these scams could cause you. Be on the lookout so you can avoid judgment-clouding confusion, and protect yourself and your loved ones.
To learn more about healthcare fraud and scams, go to aarp.org/fightfraud.