INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - Millions of seniors will soon get new Medicare cards designed to reduce the risk of identity theft.
The new cards will no longer include a Social Security number – good news for seniors but a big problem for scam artists who like to target vulnerable seniors.
"Social security numbers can easily be misused, and once a bad guy gets ahold of that number, it can cause all kinds of trouble," said Nancy Moore, director of Indiana's Senior Medicare Patrol program. "The new Medicare cards won't have a Social Security number at all. Those will be mailed. There's nothing you need to do and it won't cost anything."
Medicare started distributing the new cards this month. Instead of a traditional Social Security number, they feature a unique identifier that includes both letters and numbers. Government officials hope the change will eventually increase security and reduce fraud.
But in the short term, the change is bringing confusion, and 13 Investigates has discovered scam artists are moving in to take advantage while they still can.
Scammers feeling desperate
As Virginia and Steve Baize wait to get their new Medicare cards, the Muncie couple has noticed an increase in phone solicitations from scammers posing as telemarketers.
"They're sneaky. Very sneaky," explained Virginia. "This past week we got four phone calls."
"This guy called and said he was from Medicare senior group," Steve told WTHR, recalling a telemarketer who offered to send him a back brace. "He said he wanted the number off my blue and red [Medicare] card."
Then the caller spoke to Virginia, again asking for a current Medicare identification number.
"He kept saying to me, kept repeating ‘I need your red and blue card number. I need that number off your red and blue card,'" Virgina said. "He said the change is coming in spring for new cards and you need to use this now."
When the Vietnam veteran and his wife got suspicious and declined to provide a Social Security number, the caller got angry and threatened to revoke their health insurance.
"I told him ‘You can't do that,' and I hung up on him. I really think people are trying to take advantage of us," Virginia said.
Moore tells 13 Investigates scam phone calls targeting seniors are now on the rise due to unscrupulous telemarketers who sense they are running out of time. They are desperately trying to convince seniors to divulge their Social Security numbers before those numbers disappear completely from Medicare cards.
"It's happening nationwide and it's happening in Indiana," she explained. "People need to know Medicare won't call you. They only operate via US mail, but the scammers are very persistent. If they call you, just hang up. Don't give out any personal information. They're just really after your Social Security number."
Steve and Virginia did not give out their personal information, and they hope others will use caution, as well.
"There's certain things you don't give over the phone and the Social Security number is one of them," he said.
New cards coming soon
The new Medicare cards are being rolled out in several batches.
"People who are enrolling in Medicare for the first time will be among the first to get the new cards followed by current Medicare beneficiaries on a rolling basis over the coming months. While the cards have a new look, Medicare coverage and benefits stay the same," a Medicare spokeswoman told WTHR.
Medicare began distributing the newly-designed cards to new enrollees this month. Hoosiers who already have a Medicare card won't begin receiving theirs until after June, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. All Medicare enrollees are expected to receive a card with a new identification number by April 2019.
CMS provided WTHR with the following information to answer questions about new Medicare cards:
The following tips are available for Medicare beneficiaries:
- People with Medicare can access information about the card mailings at http://Medicare.gov/NewCard and sign up to get emails when cards start mailing in their state
- Individuals with questions can go to http://Medicare.gov or call 1-800 MEDICARE for help or additional information.
- Medicare will mail the new card, at no cost, to the verified beneficiary's address on file with the Social Security Administration (SSA). Please ensure your address of record with SSA is correct and current. To update an official mailing address, visit https://www.ssa.gov/myaccount/ or call 1-800-772-1213.
- There is no charge for your new card.
- The new card won't change your coverage or benefits.
- Medicare will NEVER contact you uninvited for your Medicare number or other personal information.
- Don't share your Medicare number or other personal information with anyone who contacts you by phone, email, or by approaching you in person, unless you've given them permission in advance.
- Only give personal information like your Medicare number to doctors, insurers acting on your behalf, or trusted people in the community who work with Medicare like your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP).
- If you receive any calls or suspicious solicitations asking for your Medicare number or other personal information, hang up and call your local Senior Medicare Patrol or 1-800-MEDICARE.
- Learn more about how you can fight scam artists who commit Medicare fraud at http://www.medicare.gov/fraud.
New Medicare Card Mailing Strategy
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is required to remove Social Security Numbers (SSNs) from all Medicare cards by April 2019.
A new, unique Medicare Number is replacing the SSN-based Health Insurance Claim Number (HICN) on each new Medicare card. Starting April 2018, CMS is mailing new Medicare cards to all people with Medicare on a flow basis, based on geographic location and other factors.
These mailings will follow the sequence outlined below. Additional details on timing will be available as the mailings progress. Starting in April 2018, people with Medicare can get information about the mailings and sign up for emails about the status of card mailings in their area on Medicare.gov/NewCard.
New Medicare Card Timetable
Newly-eligible people with Medicare nationwide — April 2018 - ongoing
- Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia — Beginning May 2018
- Alaska, American Samoa, California, Guam, Hawaii, Northern Mariana Islands, Oregon — Beginning May 2018
- Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Wisconsin — After June 2018
- Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont — After June 2018
- Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina — After June 2018
- Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wyoming — After June 2018
- Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Puerto Rico, Tennessee, Virgin Islands — After June 2018