The Herald Bulletin

October 1, 2013

Authorities warn against scam artists

Uninsured, elderly likely targets of fake websites and 'robo' phone calls

By Maureen Hayden
CNHI Statehouse Bureau

---- — INDIANAPOLIS – The rollout of the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance exchange Tuesday came with more than computer glitches that stalled enrollment in the key program of the new health care law.

It also came with fears that scam artists will be cashing in on the confusion surrounding the law, as some 500,000 uninsured Hoosiers start shopping for the health care coverage that most will soon be required to carry.

The Indiana attorney general and the Better Business Bureau are among the wide range of officials and organizations urging residents to be on the lookout for fraudsters using a battery of tools, from fake websites to “robo” phone calls, to get personal and banking information that can be used to commit financial crimes and identity theft.

“The risk of scammers here is super high,” said Abby Kuzma, director of consumer protection for the attorney general’s office.

Prompting the warnings is the opening of the “online marketplace,” the federal insurance exchange where the uninsured can register and shop for health care coverage. Tuesday’s opening of online enrollment through the website, www.healthcare.gov, was bumpy as millions of users jumped online.

At a town hall meeting Monday in Indianapolis – as congressional gridlock over the law was leading to the federal government shutdown — a representative from the federal agency that oversees the exchange said consumers would find the online marketplace easy to use, and likened it to the online shopping site, Amazon.com.

But others at the meeting said the exchange, and the law known as Obamacare that created it, were both complicated and controversial enough to cause the kind of problems that make people more vulnerable to crooks.

There are, for example, 34 different health plans that will be sold to Indiana residents, who can pick from options ranging from than $100 a month for bare-bones coverage for an individual to close to $1,000 a month for a family of four. There are also tax credits, subsidies, exemptions to the law, and penalties for not complying with it that aren’t easily explained.

“It’s a high visibility issue with mass confusion,” said Rep. Ed Clere, a New Albany Republican who chairs the House Public Health Committee and has traveled the state attending town hall meetings on the new law. “Everybody’s heard of Obamacare. Everbody knows something big is going on. What they don’t know are the details.”

“It’s a situation ripe for fraud,” Clere added. “And the people most likely to be targeted are the least sophisticated consumers.”

Kuzma agrees. “It’s a real opportunity for scammers. (People) are nervous about the law. Many people do need to something to comply with it but they’re not sure what they need to do.”

Both Clere and Kuzma are particularly concerned about the elderly, who may be duped into erroneously believing that their current Medicare coverage is about to end with the advent of the health exchanges. “The elderly are very vulnerable,” Kuzma said. “It’s important that we warn our parents and friends that this is something we need to look out for.”

Indiana opted out of operating its own health insurance exchange to comply with the Affordable Care Act, leaving it up the federal government to implement it instead. The state has certified “navigators” – people who have been trained to assist Indiana residents on how to use the health insurance exchange and have posted their contact information on the website of the state’s Department of Insurance, at www.in.gov.in/idoi.

But there aren’t certified navigators in every community in the state, leaving many Indiana residents to figure out the exchange on their own.

One major area of confusion is when to sign up. The online enrollment to buy insurance started Tuesday, but coverage doesn’t kick in until Jan. 1. And consumers have until March 31, 2014, to sign up.

The Better Business Bureau has already sent out alerts warning consumers to be wary of a scam involving health insurance exchange cards. Here’s how it works, according to the BBB: You receive a call from someone claiming to be from the federal government and the caller informs you that you’ve been picked as part of the initial group of Americans to receive insurance cards through the Affordable Care Act. Then the caller demands you give or verify personal information, such as a bank account or Social Security number, before they’ll send you the card.

“Those are big red flags,” Kuzma said. “Nobody with the federal government is going to be calling you, demanding that kind of information.”

What to do if you are contacted by somebody you think is a scammer? Don’t give them any information, Kuzma said. But do contact her office to file a complaint, by going to the website, www.in.gov/attorneygeneral or by calling 1 800 382-5516 or 1 (317) 232-6330.

Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com.

Beware of scams The Indiana Attorney General's Office is concerned about potential scams involving attempts for residents to file for Affordable Care Act. The office is advising people who can't go online to sign up for the exchange to seek help at one of the community-based organizations that have been certified by the state to assist people signing up for the exchange. In Anderson, the recommended agency is the Community Health Network, 1515 Madison Ave. Also Tuesday, Nancy Stone, Indiana Senior Medicare Patrol program director in Indianapolis, said current Medicare beneficiaries should not be getting calls about signing up for health care plans. "What we always tell them is to just hang up," Stone said. "Don't give out any personal information. Medicare will never call you. Because that's what they say -- sometimes they say they're from Medicare and they want to confirm their information." The Federal Trade Commission has issued warnings saying scammers claim to be from the government and insist on getting information so new national medical cards can be issued. Stone advised seniors not to fall for it, saying no one should be calling unsolicited about health-care changes. "The purpose is to get your financial identity, because, as you know, your Medicare number is your Social Security number. If they have that plus your bank account number, they can just go to town," she warned. Stone urged seniors who are targeted by scammers to get in touch with Senior Medicare Patrol to help with investigating the scam and get the information to the Federal Trade Commission. "We tell them to call their bank right away or go to the bank. And we also can call 1-800-Medicare with them -- or they can call on their own -- and they can report it to the FTC," she said. "The FTC really does want to know about this, as well." Hoosier seniors who have been targeted by a scam can call their Area Agency on Aging at 800-986-3505, and they will be directed to Senior Medicare Patrol. More information is available at www.consumer.ftc.gov.