COVID-19

OIG Warns Medicare Beneficiaries Not to Fall for COVID-19 Scams

Pharma companies, diagnostics manufacturers, labs and other parts of the healthcare industry have done a commendable job in pivoting in response to the current public health industry. Sadly, scammers have been just as successful. On Nov. 23, the OIG issued a new alert warning the public about fraud schemes related to COVID-19.

The Face of COVID-19 Fraud

The OIG says that scammers are taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to collect personal medical information of Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries to commit identity theft and fraudulently bill federal health care programs. And if Medicare or Medicaid denies the claim for an unapproved test billed, the beneficiary could also end up being responsible for the cost.

OIG describes the different methods fraudsters have been using to target beneficiaries, including telemarketing calls, text messages, social media platforms, and door-to-door visits. The alert cites examples of actual schemes, including:

  • After hacking social media accounts, fraudsters are sending direct messages to beneficiaries posing as a friend or government employee notifying beneficiaries of their eligibility for government grants, and urging them to call a phone number to collect the funds. Upon calling, the beneficiary is asked to pay a “processing fee” (using bank account information, gift cards, bitcoin) to receive the grant money.
  • Fraudsters are offering COVID-19 tests to beneficiaries in exchange for personal information, including their Medicare and Medicaid information.
  • Scammers posing as medical labs are targeting residents of retirement communities with offers of COVID-19 tests so they can draw blood and bill federal health care programs for medically unnecessary services.
  • Some scammers have been offering people $200 Medicare prescription cards when no such cards currently exist.

8 Ways Consumers Can Protect Themselves

The OIG alert lists recommendations for consumers to avoid being scammed:

  1. Being suspicious of unsolicited requests for Medicare or Medicaid numbers or personal/medical/financial information or offering COVID-19 tests or supplies;
  2. Understanding that Medicare doesn’t call beneficiaries to offer COVID-19 related products, services, or benefit review.
  3. Not responding to or opening hyperlinks in text messages about COVID-19 from unknown individuals.
  4. Not responding to offers or advertisements for COVID-19 testing or treatments on social media sites.
  5. When making an appointment for a COVID-19 test online, confirming that the location is an actual testing site.
  6. Being mindful of the fact that only physicians or other trusted healthcare providers should assess medical condition and approve requests for COVID-19 testing.
  7. Not providing personal or financial information to anyone claiming to offer HHS grants related to COVID-19.
  8. Being on the lookout for scammers posing as COVID-19 contact tracers. Legitimate contact tracers will never ask for Medicare numbers, financial information, or attempt to set up a COVID-19 test and collect payment information for the test, the alert notes.
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