MILWAUKEE — Open enrollment for Medicare starts next month, and this is when we start seeing more of those unsolicited calls where con-artists pose as Medicare reps seeking your personal information.
It happened to 67-year-old Paula Rhyner of Milwaukee recently. She figured a phone call with a 414 area code would be harmless.
"I answered it and the person on the other end said that they were from Medicare and they were calling to see if I had gotten my new Medicare card with the gold chip," Rhyner said.
Rhyner said she was suspicious. She knows Medicare cards don't have chips like credit or debit cards do.
"I said, 'I don't know what you're talking about.'"
Rhyner says the man on the line told her she would be getting a new card in the mail with a gold chip and he just needed to confirm the spelling of her last name.
"So, I said, 'Go ahead.'"
"So he spelled a last name that is not anywhere near my last name. I think he said it was M-a-y-e-r and I said, 'Not even close!' and then I hung up," Rhyner told TMJ4 News.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid or "CMS" is familiar with fraudulent attempts to take advantage of seniors. A spokesperson for the federal agency sent TMJ4 News the below statement:
"Identity theft is a serious concern for all Americans, including those on or eligible for Medicare. Con artists may try to get a Medicare number or other personal information from beneficiaries to steal someone's identity and commit Medicare fraud. Medicare fraud results in higher healthcare costs and taxes for us all. In this instance, for example, it appears the scam caller was referencing the "chip" now included on many credit and banking cards. Medicare cards do not have such a chip. Additionally, Medicare will never call you to confirm receipt of a new card or to ask if you'd like your current card replaced or "updated." You would need to contact Medicare directly to make such a request.
It's important to remember that Medicare will never contact someone for their Medicare number or other personal information unless that person has given the agency permission in advance. Medicare also cannot enroll you over the phone unless you called first.
Additionally, Medicare will never call to sell anything, nor can anyone promise a beneficiary services or benefits in exchange for providing their Medicare number over the phone. If you receive an unsolicited call from someone claiming to be with Medicare, hang up and don't provide any personal information. For more information on spotting fraud or reporting an issue/concern, visit https://www.medicare.gov/forms-help-resources/help-fight-medicare-fraud [medicare.gov] or call 1-800-MEDICARE."
The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection or "DATCP" received a dozen of Medicare scam complaints in the past few months.
"Enough people are tied to this benefit. It's really important to them, so they're going to be responsive," said Lara Sutherlin with the state agency.
It's an appealing population for criminals when you consider size alone: there are more than one million Medicare beneficiaries in Wisconsin.
Open enrollment for Medicare starts Oct. 15, so DATCP is warning seniors to stay vigilant.
"They're after your personal identity. So, once you get a foothold into someone's social security number, their benefits, the world is your oyster," Sutherlin added.
In some cases, DATCP says con-artists want your information, so they can file fraudulent claims.
Paula Rhyner reported the call she received with a live Medicare agent on medicare.gov.
You can also report Medicare fraud by dialing 1-800-MEDICARE.