The retirement years: They’re the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The time we’re all looking forward to, when we can kick back, relax, let loose, and stop worrying. The last thing anybody expects is to arrive at that destination and then discover they’ve fallen victim to a scam or identity theft.
And yet, according to numbers reported by Experian (one of the three major credit reporting agencies), 35% of fraud complaints and 19% of identity theft reports come from Americans over 60 years old.
And there’s even more disturbing news. In the fall of 2017, Equifax—another credit agency—itself fell victim to a massive data breach. By the time the scope of the hacker intrusion had been revealed, the Federal Trade Commission reported that 143 million people’s names, social security numbers (SSNs), birth dates, addresses, credit card numbers and drivers’ licenses may have been snatched.
It’s enough to make a lot of us ask, “If multibillion-dollar companies can’t lock down their information, what hope do we have as individual citizens?” It’s a fair question, but there are steps we can all take to keep ourselves as safe as possible from thieves, scoundrels, and scammers.
How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft and Enjoy a Safe Retirement
Safety and security in the retirement years require making preparations for every aspect of life—physical, emotional, medical, and financial.
A proactive physical safety plan includes solutions like grab bars in the shower and a medical alert device for unexpected hazards. Likewise, a comprehensive approach to protection from Medicare fraud and identity theft includes a credit monitoring service that alerts you in real time if somebody is trying to open new accounts using your name or social security number.
Another arrow in the quiver is a robust password manager application. If you’re still keeping your passwords written down on a piece of paper next to your computer, in your head, or if they’re all versions of a significant family member’s name (or heaven forbid, “PASSWORD”), it’s time to upgrade. Such programs not only store all of your passwords in secure encrypted databases, they can generate highly complex new passwords for credit cards, bank accounts, health provider portals, and more. They also can update them on that much-touted quarterly schedule none of us ever adhere to! And most can synchronize the new passwords across every device you own instantly, whether that’s a Jitterbug Smartphone, laptop, or tablet. There are many options, and compared to the cost of recovering from identity theft and/or fraudulent accounts opened in your name, the annual fees associated with password managers are minuscule.
Medicare Fraud and Abuse
Medicare card identity theft has always been a significant source of Medicare fraud cases and identity theft; the new cards, which replace a prominently displayed (unmasked) social security number with a new, unique beneficiary identification number (BIN), are part of a new push by the government to help protect retirees from identity theft, and reduce the amount of Medicare fraud cases.
According to the fact-checking website Snopes, as early as February 2018, some people were receiving suspicious phone calls relating to the announcement of the new Medicare cards, specifically designed to protect beneficiaries. This unambiguous statement from Medicare.gov should help to put such scams to rest:
Medicare will never call you uninvited and ask you to give us personal or private information to get your new Medicare Number and card. Scam artists may try to get personal information (like your current Medicare Number) by contacting you about your new card. If someone asks you for your information, for money, or threatens to cancel your health benefits if you don’t share your personal information, hang up and call us at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).
Potential scammers rely on our good manners and socialization to gain access to personal information and commit Medicare fraud and Medicare identity theft, but there are steps we can take to protect ourselves.
Tips for Medicare Fraud Prevention
- Protect your new Medicare beneficiary number as you would your social security number. Keep it confidential except when you are speaking with your doctors, insurers, family members or others whom you know and trust.
- Don’t share your personally identifying information (like your social security number, Medicare identification number, full name, date of birth, etc.) with anybody who has called you on the phone, via email, or in person unless you contacted them first.
- Consider adding yourself to the National Do Not Call registry if you do not already belong. This removes your phone number from lists that telemarketers may call with unsolicited offers. You may also report unwanted calls at this website.
- Use the Better Business Bureau’s Scam Tracker to look up and report suspicious calls you may receive relating to Medicare fraud and identity theft.
The situations in which Medicare representatives may reach out to beneficiaries and ask for personal information are extremely limited. You can learn about them here.
Bottom line: In the age of technology, we have resources to help keep ourselves and our loved ones safe from unscrupulous people who may use the new Medicare cards as an identity theft opportunity. Vigilance and verification can help to reduce victimization during this transition period.