Beware of Medicare Scams During Open Enrollment

Medicare's open enrollment runs from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7 annually, and it's a great chance for seniors to change their health benefits and, ideally, save themselves some money in the process. But there's a downside to open enrollment, and it's that scammers tend to use it as an opportunity to steal from otherwise unsuspecting seniors.

This year, unfortunately, is no exception. But if you're careful, you can avoid falling victim to a Medicare scam.

Don't be fooled

Seniors tend to be particularly susceptible to financial scams, so it's crucial to be vigilant and understand the anatomy of a scam. In a nutshell, Medicare scams generally involve a random person reaching out to you by phone or email and demanding pieces of personal information to either help you capitalize on a so-called great offer or prevent you from losing your benefits.

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Here's a common version: You'll get a call saying that your Medicare benefits are about to be suspended if you don't provide your billing information. You'll then be asked to supply your Social Security number and bank account details to correct the "problem" and avoid a gap in coverage. Give out that information, and you're effectively signing up to be a victim of identity theft.

Another common scam involves fake Medicare agents calling you and offering to help you sign up for a new Medicare plan. Just like with the suspended benefits scam, you'll be asked to provide personal information that can then be used to do everything from steal your identity to access funds from your bank accounts.

And then there's the classic equipment scam. Callers will contact you with "unbeatable deals" on commonly used medical equipment like wheelchairs, walkers, and braces. If you give out your bank account details to secure a "great price" on these items, you'll risk a host of negative consequences.

Avoiding Medicare scams

The best way to not be a victim of a Medicare scam? Never give out personal information to an unsolicited caller or emailer. As a matter of course, Medicare representatives do not reach out to enrollees by phone, so if someone claims to be an official Medicare employee, don't believe it. The only way a Medicare representative will contact you is if you initiate that communication (such as, if you call 1-800-MEDICARE with a question and representative returns your call).

Also, be on the lookout for scare tactics. Anyone who warns that you're about to lose your benefits or face a penalty if you don't provide personal information is simply trying to scare you into making a big mistake.

If somebody does try to scam you this year during open enrollment, report it at Medicare.gov. In doing so, you may prevent other seniors from getting taken advantage of.

Finally, though you should never trust a random caller who claims he or she can help you find the best Medicare plan, you should trust Medicare's plan finder tool. It includes ratings for Part D drug plans and Medicare Advantage plans to help you make the best healthcare decisions for the coming year.

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