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For so many Medicare is a lifeline — helping them stay on the side of good health instead of sickness. But unfortunately, those who partake in this program and need this care have become a target for scammers.

In 2018, the BBB Scam Tracker received more than 500 reports nationwide about scam calls claiming to be from Medicare representatives. Typically, these scams start with a call that appears on your caller ID as Medicare or Social Security Administration. There are many variations, but regardless of the method, the scammer’s goal is to steal personal information for their benefit.

These calls may go something like this when you pick up the phone: A Medicare impersonator offers you something for free such as a back brace or knee brace. To receive it, you must share some personal information such as your Social Security number to “confirm” your identity.

In another version, scammers attempt to intimidate you by claiming there is a problem with your Medicare or Social Security benefits. They may claim there has been suspicious activity on your account, and you are in danger of losing your benefits, or worse, if you don’t give them the information they need right away.

Medicare fraud has cost the American public more than $60 billion, and durable medical equipment fraud is a significant contributor to that total. In April 2019, the U.S. Department of Justice indicted 24 people across the country for durable medical equipment fraud involving more than $1.2 billion in losses.

The Better Business Bureau suggests being skeptical. Government agencies don’t call consumers unsolicited. Know that Medicare medical suppliers are not allowed to make unsolicited telephone calls or send e-mails to sell you equipment unless you’ve done business with them in the past 15 months.

How to protect yourself:

  • Don’t answer calls from unknown numbers. If you receive a call from a number you haven’t saved to your contacts, or if your caller ID says “Unknown,” don’t pick up the phone. Also, be aware that scammers can dupe caller ID and mask their true phone numbers.
  • When in doubt, hang up. If you do answer a call from an unsolicited caller and are greeted by a robocall or even a person who claims to be with a government agency, just hang up. Don’t press any buttons, don’t engage in conversation and don’t ask to be removed from the call list.

If you have received a call from a government agency impersonator, help others avoid falling victim and report the details of the call to BBB.org/ScamTracker.

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Jeremy Johnson is the Eastern Idaho marketplace manager for the Better Business Bureau Northwest + Pacific.

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