published Friday, September 6th, 2013

Biz Bulletin: Watch out for Obamacare scams

By Jim Winsett
  • photo
    BBB Chief Exective Jim Winsett
    Photo by Leigh Shelle Hunt

Q: I have been getting calls lately supposedly from the government saying I need to sign up for insurance, but when I tell them I already have insurance they say they can get me a better rate and pressure me to get my information. I'm suspecting that these callers may really be fraudsters. Does the BBB have any tips to tell the difference?

A: Scammers are using the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, commonly labeled as "Obamacare," as the latest opportunity to steal people's identities. And as we get closer to Oct. 1, when health care enrollment begins, Better Business Bureau and security experts warn that the problem will only get worse.

According to Fraud.org, Obamacare scams come in a variety of forms. Consumers across the country

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.

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 that don't obtain insurance doesn't take effect until 2014 and contains no jail penalty.

For those who do not have insurance yet, the ACA created a Health Insurance Marketplace, also referred to as the Health Insurance Exchange. Here you can find health coverage that fits your budget and meets your needs. But policies in the exchange don't open for business until Oct. 1. Until then, no one can sell you insurance through an exchange.

BBB has also heard from consumers across the country in recent weeks who say that scammers are calling them, and claiming they are eligible for health insurance cards in exchange for personal information. BBB recommends consumers ignore these calls, providing information may put them at risk for identity theft.

BBB offers the following tips to help you spot a health insurance fraud:

There is no card associated with health care reform.

There is no new Medicare card, and you do not have to update any personal information.

The Health Insurance Marketplace (those exchanges) doesn't open until Oct. 1, so you can't buy coverage under the Affordable Care Act until then.

Don't respond to a cold call of any kind, especially one that asks for personal information or money. And don't trust caller ID, which can be rigged to make it look as if the call is coming from a government office.

Don't let anyone rush you. The rates in the exchange have been preapproved and won't change during the initial enrollment period, Oct. 1 to March 31. Anyone promising a "special price" or "limited time offer" or who tells you "spots are limited" is lying.

Some more information to keep in mind should you confront a fraudster:

Hang up the phone. 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 that the scammer instructs and report the incident to your local BBB, BBB's Scam Stopper (http://www.bbb.org/scam-stopper/), or the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov).

Never give out personal information. Never give out your bank account numbers, date of birth, credit card number 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.

The government rarely communicates via phone calls. Most of the time, the government uses traditional snail mail to communicate to consumers. The government rarely calls, emails or texts, so don't give your information to these types of government messages.

Get informed. Find out how the health care reform affects you. Visit the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Service's HealthCare.gov. You also want to start your search here if you live in one of the places (17 states, District of Columbia, Guam or American Samoa), that set up its own exchange. Customer service representatives are available at 1-800-318-2596.

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.

Jim Winsett is presdient of the Better Business Bureau of Greater Chattanooga

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