FTC warns consumers about threat of Medicare scams

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The agency is offering suggestions during Medicare Fraud Prevention Week

It’s Medicare Fraud Prevention Week, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is taking the opportunity to warn consumers about impersonation scammers.

Last year, the agency recorded a million scam reports and losses of almost $2.3 billion from victims across the U.S. who were taken in by fraudsters pretending to be government agents, grandkids, or sweethearts. Unfortunately, things don't appear to be getting any better this year. So far for 2022, impersonation scams still rank as the most-reported type of fraud.

Impersonation scammers are more chameleon-like than others. They keep changing their stories to catch their victims off-guard.

“Some scams even ask you for your Medicare number,” the FTC cautions. “If anyone surprises you with a call, email, text, or message on social media and asks for money or personal information — no matter what story they tell — it’s most likely a scam.”

Protecting yourself from impersonation scams

The FTC laid out several things that consumers can do to keep themselves – and their money – safe from impersonation scams:

Reduce unwanted calls and emails. The agency advises the public to use call blocking technology or devices that stop unwanted calls — like scam calls and illegal robocalls — before they reach you. T-Mobile users can download the ScamShield app, Verizon customers can download the Call Filter app, and AT&T customers can download the ActiveArmor app. 

The agency said using email spam filters can also help reduce phishing scam attempts, as can setting your computer software to update automatically.

Keep information private. As is the case with any federal government agency, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) won’t call or text to ask you for money.

“Even if your Caller ID says it's Medicare, it could be faked,” the FTC’s Bridget Small said. “Don’t share personal or financial information with anyone who calls, emails, or texts saying they are from a government agency.”

Small also advises the public to avoid clicking links or opening attachments in emails and text messages, even if they seem to come from the CMS or a company you know. They could be “smishing” messages that seek to steal your account numbers, passwords, or other information.

“People should recognize that their mobile phones are as vulnerable as other devices such as PCs because they contain information that is valuable to malicious actors and because we use them in many of the same ways we use our laptops and desktops: to shop, check financial information, or communicate,” Jon Clay, vice president of Threat intelligence at Trend Micro, told ConsumerAffairs.

“To avoid being a victim of smishing, you can remember 3 things: Lower your risk, lift your defenses, and look for the signs. Always be vigilant when you receive a text from an unknown number. Smishing is sometimes just like phishing emails, containing poor grammar or links that look suspicious. If it appears to be from a company you know, go directly to your account online another way to see if the communication is legitimate.” 

Protect your money. If someone demands payment by wire transfer, gift cards, or cryptocurrency, that is a huge red flag that should warn consumers that they're being scammed.

“Only scammers tell you to pay these ways. It’s hard to track those payments, and almost impossible to get your money back,” Small said.

Consumers who suspect that they have been targeted by a scam should report it to the FTC's complaint center here.

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