Tips for avoiding Medicare, Census scams
The questionnaire 92-year-old Robert Cooper received in the mail in late December seemed so authentic.
The sender appeared to be the U.S. Census Bureau and the package “looked so official and was so nicely printed that it was clearly a big effort” someone made to get him to respond.
So Cooper filled it out. He answered questions about his age, education and who else lived with him. But about 10 questions in, the questionnaire asked for his and his wife’s Medicare card numbers.
He said he thought the question was strange then, but still he mailed it back.
Cooper said he believes now the questionnaire may have been a ploy disguised as a Census Bureau survey to get his Medicare number and he worries others may fall victim to it if they aren’t aware of this potential scam.
Not legit: So will the Census Bureau ever ask for someone’s Medicare number?
No, said Tom Edwards, who works as a respondent advocate for household surveys for the Census Bureau.
While the bureau does ask in some surveys what kind of health care coverage a person has, it will never ask respondents to provide a Medicare account number or numbers for any other kind of health benefit, Edwards said.
Edwards added that the bureau wants households it asks to participate in surveys to be fully aware that they can contact the bureau if they want to confirm whether a survey is legitimate or not.
“If you’ve seen something that looks like a fraud, we will investigate it and any and all rumors,” Edwards said.
Verification: The Census Bureau provides U.S. households with a number of ways to confirm the validity of a survey. The bureau conducts some 30 surveys every year that are sent to select households across the country, Edwards said.
Going to census.gov and clicking on the “Help for Survey Participants” section that appears on the homepage will bring up a list of resources to confirm whether you are being asked to participate in a survey by the Census Bureau.
To verify that Census Bureau materials received in the mail are legitimate, look for a few key details in the return address:
Look for either the U.S. Department of Commerce or the U.S. Census Bureau.
Check that the return address is located in Jeffersonville, Indiana.
And if you’re still not sure, you can call the bureau’s National Processing Center directly at 1-800-523-3205. If you suspect fraud, you can also call that number or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The bureau won’t ask in its surveys for a full Social Security number, money, credit card numbers or anything on behalf of a political party.
Edwards said the Census Bureau doesn’t keep a tally of how many times fraudulent census survey scams occur around the country every year.
He said it’s difficult because concerns about potential scams reach the bureau via the bureau’s general help call center, congressional offices and the respondent advocate office.
Cooper called The Dallas Morning News after The News reported in a January 1 story that 2020 census materials will arrive in mailboxes starting around mid-March.
“If I’d thought about it a little while, I’d have known there’s no reason why they need my Medicare number,” Cooper said. “If it seems official, raise a question in your mind about information they’re asking and why they would need that information.”
Medicare won’t call you: Medicare will never reach beneficiaries by phone and will always contact by mail, said Jennifer Salazar, program director of the Texas Senior Medicare Patrol.
“You’re gonna get a call from the queen of England before you get a call from Medicare,” Salazar said. “People need to be cautious to not give out their Medicare numbers.”
Salazar said that scammers can bill Medicare for equipment and services using a stolen Medicare number and that the rightful Medicare beneficiaries can then be denied those services by the federal program.
A 2017 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that Medicare lost upwards of $52 billion in fraud and improper payments that year.
If someone believes their number may have been compromised, Salazar said, it’s important to look at Medicare summary notices to see if any fraudulent charges appear.
Medicare beneficiaries can also call the Texas Senior Medicare Patrol or Medicare directly for help in identifying potential fraud.
Cooper said he called Medicare around Jan. 7 and told them about his number having been potentially compromised. The Medicare representative told him then that they would be issuing him and his wife new numbers.
The agent didn’t give him the numbers over the phone. He only obtained the new numbers by mail. The old Medicare numbers he and his wife used have been deactivated.
Cooper said he was fortunate that no charges had been made using his or his wife’s numbers. He said he would warn others to read carefully through any surveys they receive in the mail.
“Put it aside for a little while and think about what they’re asking and why they’re asking about it,” Cooper said. “If you’re not sure, it’s better to ask questions and be sure about what you’re doing.”