By Iowa Congressman Tom Latham
If you read nothing else in this article please read and heed these words: Never give ANY of your personal or financial information to anyone who calls or emails you — ever. This includes date of birth, your Social Security number, bank account and credit card numbers. Never ever.
Recent news stories are popping up that detail how criminals are using the confusion caused by the new health care law to defraud and steal the identities of the elderly and other unsuspecting citizens. While these types of disgusting scams are are nothing new, these shady characters are now using the full implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as a tool to carry out their crimes to obtain personal information.
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) reported in mid-May on the rise in scam phone calls claiming to inform consumers of their eligibility to receive health insurance cards through the ACA — but not before disclosing private details like bank account and Social Security numbers. The problem: There is no such card, and enrollment under the health care law doesn’t begin until October 1.
This is a typical ploy of fraudsters who prey upon vulnerable or uninformed Americans. They take a complex and confusing law like the ACA — or something that seniors rely on like Medicare and Social Security — and use these programs as camouflage to appear legitimate. Thinking that their targets won’t know any better, they expect to steal someone’s identity or coerce an individual into taking some damaging action without the victim having the slightest scent of wrongdoing.
Though it’s always advisable to be on the lookout for this type of behavior, the time is now for Iowa seniors and their families to be especially vigilant. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), “scams often follow the news”. In the past, for instance, criminals have used natural disasters as a pretext for charity scams. In the present, they’re using the ACA — which manages to snag newspaper headlines and broadcast stories almost daily, it seems — to offer illegitimate health care materials in exchange for sensitive information.
Don’t assume that a phone scam is their only tactic. “Phishing” is a common activity in which an email or text message sender will pose as an official entity and request personal data from the recipient or direct the recipient to an outside website. “Spammers” on social media will often provide web links with an accompanying message making some questionable claim or promise of a benefit by clicking.
These methods frequently share the telltale signs of a scam, and citizens can better protect themselves by knowing them. It’s important to remember that the federal government rarely contacts individuals by phone call, text message or email, instead using postal mail in most instances. Additionally, the government should already have basic personal information on file, so people alleging their affiliation with the government but lacking data like home addresses or Social Security numbers should be viewed skeptically.
And perhaps above all, unsolicited requests from unrecognized sources for a credit card number, bank account number, date of birth, or Social Security number should go without response — whether by phone, by text, or by email.
Scammers are always determined to find ways to deceive consumers, and the confusion of citizens with the Affordable Care Act’s coming implementation provides them an opportune vehicle for their deception. Anyone who is the victim of a scam attempt or is aware of one can file a complaint with the FTC at http://ftc.gov/complaint, and more information about current scams is available via the BBB’s Scam Stopper at http://www.bbb.org/scamstopper.
My office is always there to address any further questions or concerns, as well. Visit Latham.House.Gov on the web.