By Anne C. Fredrickson
Ohio Senior Medicare Patrol
March 4-10 is National Consumer Protection Week. Why do we need to spotlight consumer protection? And, why is it so important to seniors?
The Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) online database of consumer complaints has compiled 13 million complaints from 2012 to 2016, with 3 million in 2016 alone. Of those, 42 percent were fraud related (1.3 million), and 13 percent were identity theft complaints. Consumers reported paying over $744 million in those fraud complaints; the median amount paid was $450*.
What types of consumer fraud tend to target seniors?
Seniors are particularly vulnerable to consumer fraud. But the best way to identify and avoid it is to know its hallmarks. Can you identify the common types of consumer fraud for seniors? Some consumer fraud can take place with deceptive telemarketing, charity or current event scams, deceptive health product advertising and foreclosure rescue scams.
A few good examples of telemarketing consumer fraud are cold calls in which someone over the phone requests money up-front, or discusses offers that are too good to be true, such as gift offers. Some of these offers come in the form of a charity or fundraising offer, credit and loan offers, sweepstakes, lotteries or travel scams.
Often times, the pitch can be a phony offer such as a large percentage of savings on prescription drugs through an online pharmacy or a membership necessary to retain Medicare benefits at no cost to consumers.
In these schemes, the caller might ask the senior to wire money to an individual.
What should you do if you fall prey to a fraud?
First, report the telemarketing fraud to the FTC by phone at 1-877-FTC-HELP or through the FTC website at www.ftc.gov.
Also at the FTC website, you can register your phone number on the National Do Not Call Registry. If you do not have access to a computer, or have someone to help you access the FTC website, you can go to any library and the librarian will assist you.
If you provide personal identity information such as your checking account number or your Medicare card number, which has been your social security number, you should contact your bank and close your accounts so no fraud can occur on your accounts.
Be defensive to avoid fraud!
The best way to avoid consumer fraud is to know how to respond to a fraud. Be defensive! You can hang up on the caller. At the Ohio Senior Medicare Patrol Project (SMP) at Pro Seniors, we have a saying that “it’s shrewd to be rude!” Hang up the phone if you do not know or recognize the caller.
New Medicare fraud-reduction effort
This is a good opportunity to share wonderful new information from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS): Congress passed the 2015 Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA), which requires CMS to remove Social Security numbers from all Medicare cards by April 2019.
Congress passed this legislation to better protect Medicare patients’ private health care and financial information. CMS will provide new cards to all Medicare beneficiaries over the next year. The rollout for the new cards begins April 1. CMS has created a special webpage to share information about the new cards.
For further information about consumer protection and Medicare fraud, please join Ohio SMP and Maple Knoll Village, WMKV radio on Wednesday, March 21 for our free 2018 Consumer Protection Forum. Click here for details and registration information.
Anne C. Fredrickson is Project Manager for Ohio Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP), which teaches Ohioans how to avoid Medicare fraud and identity theft. Ohio SMP is part of Pro Seniors, which provides advice, representation and justice for seniors in Ohio.