By Cheryl Wade for the Midland Daily News
Posted: Saturday, December 24, 2011 7:00 am
A Midland woman offered a “new Medicare card” over the phone on Wednesday avoided a scam, reported it to a government office and wants to warn others. Carol Struthers, 83, said she received a phone call from a male caller with a heavy accent, and the man told her she was to receive a new Medicare card.
“He had my name, address, telephone number; he assumed I was on Medicare,” Struthers said. The man passed her to a supervisor, and she heard noise in the background, “People talking and stuff like that,” she said. The supervisor reviewed her information, including the name of her bank, which she unwittingly had divulged. The man then told her there was so much noise that he would have to call her back in a few minutes.
“I got to thinking about that,” she said of the experience. “Anytime, I have a connection with Medicare, it comes in the mail, explaining what it is and what they need.”
Her suspicions caused her to call Medicare, and someone connected her with the fraud hotline of the Office of the U.S. Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services. When she called the number and explained what had happened, she quickly was connected to a live person - no dangling on the line, she said. The person on the other end told her the call she had received was fraudulent. The suspicious person probably would call her back and ask for her bank account number.
“There’s no way I’m going to give that away,” she said. She ended up talking to someone else on the phone and, if the suspicious caller had tried to contact her again, she was unaware of it because she was using the phone.
“It all happened very quickly,” Struthers said.
Struthers surely did the right thing by reporting the suspicious call to the office of the Inspector General said Don White, spokesperson for that Washington, D.C. office. Although he had no numbers for scams reported to the hotline, he said scams are “way too common...and they are difficult to track and they’re difficult to stop.”
Struthers had wondered if the call had come from some disreputable insurance outfit, but White said that’s not likely.
“Insurance companies are fairly heavily regulated at the state level,” he said. “If you were a legitimate insurance company doing something like this, you would lose your license. You couldn’t operate in the state at all.”
White talked about what has become an all too familiar scenario: A caller might congratulate a person on receiving a $5,000 grant, and all the recipient has to do is wire a $300 processing fee. He also has heard cases in which someone was to receive a wheelchair, but never received it. Instead the cost of a wheelchair was billed fraudulently to the person’s Medicare number. Should the person later need a wheelchair, Medicare wouldn’t pay for what the government agency would surmise was a second chair.
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