The Better Business Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission are warning consumers not to be fooled by people trying to take advantage of confusion over the Affordable Care Act (ACA), better known as ObamaCare.
Scammers are using the implementation of the ObamaCare as the latest opportunity to steal people’s identities, said Gabriela Mendoza, Better Business Bureau assistant director of business services for Central California.
Obamacare scams come in a variety of forms. Consumers’ complaints allege that scammers are contacting them by phone, fax, email and even in person. Some scammers claim to be government employees, tricking consumers into revealing their bank account numbers in order to sign up for fake health care plans. Others are asking for social security numbers in order for consumers to continue their eligibility for Medicare.
Mendoza explained that the most recent scam involves consumers getting a phone call from someone claiming to be from the government. The caller tells the potential victim that he or she needs an ObamaCare insurance card. Then the con artist tells the consumer that he or she must provide personal information such as a bank account or social security number in order to get the card.
“Never give out personal information over the phone,” Mendoza warned.
If scammers get your information, they may commit identity theft, charge your credit cards, empty your checking account or open new credit cards or bank accounts. They could try to take out loans in your name, or trick you into buying or mailing “pre-paid cards” to pay for coverage.
Certain fraudsters are intimidating consumers into disclosing information by claiming “it’s the law” or that “the government now requires it.” Some consumers are threatened with jail time if they do not purchase fake insurance cards. The only financial penalties associated with families and individuals who don’t obtain insurance doesn’t take effect until 2014 and contains no jail penalty.
In addition, the only place you can get ACA insurance is through the Health Insurance Marketplace, where you can find health coverage that fits your budget and meets your needs. In California, the marketplace is at CoveredCa.com. If you already have insurance, you don’t need to do anything. Seniors are especially targeted, so the AARP is reminding seniors that if they already have Medicare or Medicaid, they don’t need to do anything.
“Consumers must be vigilant,” said Eric Kanefsky, director of the FTC, Division of Consumer Affairs. “Con artists are constantly seeking new ways to dupe victims into giving up their bank account information and opening themselves up to identity theft. During the coming months, many will prey on confusion about the Affordable Care Act.”
Blair Looney, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Central California says, “Consumers should always be cautious when anyone calls you asking for personal information of any kind.” The government will never call you, so if you receive such a call hang up, he added.
Mendoza said that reports of these scams have not yet hit the Central Valley, but cases have been reported throughout California and the nation. The FTC said it expects complaints to rise once health insurance exchanges are in full swing.
To be prepared, the BBB has issued these tips:
- Hang up. If you get one of these calls, just hang up. You may be tempted to call back, but this will only give the scammer another opportunity to steal your information. Also, be sure not to press any buttons the scammer instructs.
- Never give out personal information. Never give out your bank account numbers, date of birth, credit cards or Social Security number.
- Don’t rely on caller ID. Some scammers are able to display a company’s name or phone number on the caller ID screen. Don’t trust that the information you see is true.
- Get informed. Find out how the health care reform affects you. Visit the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Service’s website HealthCare.gov.
- Get help. In the event that you give your personal information to an ObamaCare fraudster, inform your banks, credit card providers and the three major credit bureaus, TransUnion, Experian and Equifax, so that they can be on the lookout for potential identity thieves.
The FTC also warned consumers to be savvy online. The official marketplace websites are healthcare.gov, and in this state, CoveredCa.com. Before you visit one of these sites, make sure you type the address correctly. Some shady types have started websites that are just one mistyped letter away from the real thing.
The fake sites look authentic, and some may even post official-looking government seals and logos to deceive you. Also, never click on a link that has been emailed to you. Scammers can embed malicious code and infect your computer with spyware. If you do visit a website, type the URL in the browser yourself.