Archive for Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Resident fears Medicare call was scam

August 1, 2007

Telemarketing scams can happen to anyone; just ask Carol Oelschlaeger.

Last week the 66-year-old Tonganoxie resident received two calls from people claiming they were representatives of a Canadian online pharmacy, PharmaBay, asking her for some information about her bank and bank accounts to pay a $389 bill for Medicare information.

The first time, Oelschlaeger hung up on the man, who she said was hard to understand because of his accent. But when someone else called Oelschlaeger Friday night, she didn't hang up.

"I should have known better," she said. "I've never had anyone try that on me before, and I just should have known better."

A representative of PharmaBay said the company never makes outgoing calls to customers, but only receives calls to place orders.

Each year thousands of people lose thousands of dollars to telemarketing scams. In 2006, 50 percent of all telemarketing scams came from people who were 50 years or older, the National Consumer League reported.

Debbie Krivjansky, manager at First State Bank & Trust, runs a yearly seminar that teaches people how to protect themselves from identity theft. She said the one main mistake people make with the telemarketing scams is that they keep talking.

"If you did not initiate the call, hang up the phone immediately." Krivjansky said. "(The telemarketers) try to get into conversation with you. These companies are very smooth at asking the right questions and getting the info they need."

Krivjansky said she's had people tell her that they've received phone calls from unknown people and by the time they hang up they realize they have just given a lot of personal information to the unknown caller.

In Oelschlaeger's case, like in many others, the caller was asking for the information relating it to Medicare. Oelschlaeger said that she and her husband, Everett, recently received a letter from Blue Cross and Blue Shield telling them they were being switched over to another provider, but the new provider wasn't identified.

When Oelschlaeger received the call Friday, the caller was asking about her husband's Medicare information, which Oelschlaeger thought was related to the new provider.

Before she knew it, she was giving the caller her checking account number and the bank's routing number after the man on the other end of the phone said he would be mailing her a new Medicare card.

"It is just a scam as far as I'm concerned," she said. "We might get a card. I've never been in this situation and I don't intend to ever get into it again."

On Monday, Oelschlaeger went to her bank and opened a new bank account. She said there had not been any suspicious activity on her account.

Sometimes people are too embarrassed about being duped to come in and close out their accounts, but Krivjansky said it's important the bank be notified immediately.

"Don't be embarrassed; let's close it out," Krivjansky said. "It's not a big deal. We help you do all of it."

Krivjansky's annual seminar is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 19, at the bank's training center.

To help prevent Medicare fraud, you should report suspected instances of fraud. Whenever you receive a payment notice from Medicare, review it for errors. The payment notice shows what Medicare was billed for, what Medicare paid and what you owe. Make sure Medicare was not billed for health care services or medical supplies and equipment you did not receive.

The following is a list of tips from medicare.gov, the government's official Medicare Web site, to prevent fraud:

  • Don't ever give out your Medicare Health Insurance Claim Number (on your Medicare card) except to your physician or other Medicare provider.
  • Don't allow anyone, except appropriate medical professionals, to review your medical records or recommend services.
  • Don't contact your physician to request a service that you do not need.
  • Do be careful in accepting Medicare services that are represented as being free.
  • Do be cautious when you are offered free testing or screening in exchange for your Medicare card number.
  • Do be cautious of any provider who maintains they have been endorsed by the Federal government or by Medicare.
  • Do avoid a provider of health care items or services who tells you that the item or service is not usually covered, but they know how to bill Medicare to get it paid.

Ashley Anstaett, a spokesman for Kansas Attorney General Paul Morrison, said people who fear they have been conned by a telemarketing agency should file a report.

"We do encourage consumers to call our consumer protection division or go online to file a complaint. This is the only way we are able to investigate the complaint and fined out if we should do something about it," she said.

The attorney general's Consumer Protection Division can be reached at (800) 432-2310.

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