HELP LINE: ’Tis the season to beware scammers

IN CASE ANY of us are still uncertain, after the caloric overdose we characterize as Thanksgiving, the holiday season is upon us.

Happily, this season tends to bring out the best in a lot of us. Unhappily, it can also bring out the worst in others.

Then, throw in the mass confusion (uncertainty or just plain change) associated with the on again/off again distribution of new Medicare numbers to several million of us and what do we get?

Right: bad guys.

So here are a couple of scams that are making the national rounds including our little Western Washington.

This first one is about Medicare, and it relates to DME suppliers out of Florida (FYI: “DME” = durable medical equipment, so think about things such as braces or wheelchairs).

The scammers are cold-calling (meaning, you didn’t initiate anything or ask them to call) Medicare beneficiaries presenting themselves as being from Medicare and offering knee or back braces at no cost because Medicare will pay — in full — for the DME equipment.

So, some beneficiaries have provided their Medicare numbers (“new” or “old” Medicare numbers, it doesn’t matter because right now both are operative) and bingo — in a few days, boxes have arrived with braces from two different companies.

This is what’s known, in the biz, as Medicare abuse meaning providing services or stuff that were never ordered and, often, not medically necessary so Medicare just got ripped off.

Let’s be clear: First, Medicare being ripped off doesn’t help us; second, the bad guys now have your Medicare number and are off to the races.

And did said Medicare beneficiaries accrue any cost from acquiring said equipment? Maybe. Probably.

As an additional FYI, these scammers are appearing to target only those of us who have original Medicare, because Medicare Advantage Plans require prior authorization for this stuff and because there are very few Advantage Plans available in our little corner of the planet most of us are targets so beware.

Folks are encouraged to get the phone number, if they have caller ID, and the name of the “agent” and company name, then hang up.

Don’t give them anything. And then call 1-800-562-6900 to report it.

Didn’t we just mention caller ID?

Here’s another one, but this one is about Social Security, and it’s happening all across the country.

This is a spoofing scam, meaning that the number that shows up on your caller ID is not the actual number that the bad guy (or gal) is calling from.

I know: Many of us who grew up with rotary phone (or no phones) or party lines, etc. tend to think that caller ID approximates a zenith in communications technology. Alas …

What happens is that the phone rings and the person being called sees that caller ID is displaying 1-800-772-1213, and immediately recognizes it as being the national customer service number for the Social Security Administration. (I know: That does seem amazing, but apparently there are folks who actually immediately recognize that number. Wow.)

Thus, secure in the knowledge that they’re being called by the real Social Security Administration, launch into the conversation.

The conversation is with an “SSA employee,” stating that SSA doesn’t have all of the person’s personal information (such as Social Security number), that SSA needs additional info so the person’s Social Security benefit can be increased or that SSA will terminate benefits unless the information is provided.

And, yup: The info is provided and, once again, the bad guys are destined for elaborate holidays because they’ve just gotten all they need to create numerous accounts on your nickel.


Think about it: Social Security doesn’t have your Social Security number? Really?

But I don’t want to be critical of folks who have been victimized because I understand that when you’re on the phone with somebody who sounds and acts very official (plus, the legit number is showing on your caller ID screen) it seems obligatory and safe to give them what they want.

What could you do, in that situation? You could just hang up.

Now, I’m not going to tell you that it’s absolutely impossible that SSA would ever call you (unusual, but not impossible), but they would never call you about stuff like this.

Besides, what’s the worst thing that could happen if you just hang up?

You’re going to offend the entire Social Security Administration?

Unlikely, and if they really need something from you, trust me — they’ll find another way to contact you.

Never, never, never give out personal info like this on the phone, unless you have initiated the call.

If you’re worried about it, you could always call SSA (after all, you have their number on your caller ID) and ask them if they’re looking for you for something, but don’t be surprised if what you hear is “… uh … no …”

I would advise against calling the CIA with the same inquiry. Besides, I don’t know the CIA’s customer service number.

Get it? Who needs this kind of bummer at the holidays?

If a personal testimonial is helpful, I routinely hang up on a vast number of calls about six seconds into the conversation, and I don’t feel guilty and I’m still here.

Of course, the CIA hasn’t called … recently.


Mark Harvey is director of Clallam/Jefferson Senior Information & Assistance, which operates through the Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He is also a member of the Community Advocates for Rural Elders partnership. He can be reached at 360-452-3221 (Port Angeles-Sequim), 360-385-2552 (Jefferson County) or 360-374-9496 (West End), or by emailing [email protected].

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