Starting in 2018, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services sent every Medicare beneficiary a new card designed to better protect against identity theft. These new cards utilize a unique, randomly assigned combination of numbers and letters called a Medicare Beneficiary Identifier (MBI) instead of the beneficiaries’ social security number. Unfortunately, the new approach hasn’t stopped criminals from targeting older Americans. During the transition, many beneficiaries were called by scammers claiming to be Medicare employees. During these calls’ beneficiaries were asked to verify personal information to “activate” their new card. Now that the new cards have been rolled out as of January 2019 doesn’t mean that the scams have stopped. There are still many variations of these scams happening each day, all with the intent of trying to get your personal information. For example, some have received calls stating there’s been suspicious activity on their Medicare account, and they need to verify their identity to avoid losing their benefits. They might even try to entice them to pay a fee to upgrade from a paper to a plastic card (which Medicare doesn’t offer). The best way to protect yourself is to understand the warning signs. Here are some things to watch out for.

• An unexpected call from someone claiming to work for Medicare. Medicare employees will never call you without being invited to do so — for example, if you left a message at Medicare’s customer service line. If you receive a call like this, hand up immediately and do not give out your information. In fact, be sure you have destroyed our old Medicare card to protect your identity. You will never be asked to return it to Medicare.

• Someone threatens to cancel your Medicare coverage unless you provide personal information over the phone. Don’t share your Medicare or Social Security number with anyone who contacts you out of the blue by phone or email. In fact, only give your new Medicare number to trusted providers such as doctors, pharmacist, insurers or state health agencies.

• You get a bill from a hospital or medical provider for care that you feel like you didn’t receive. If this happens, first call the health care provide or supplier to question the charge. If it was a mistake, they will correct it. You can also call the company that paid the bill as their contact information is on your explanation of benefits. If you are not satisfied with the response you get form the provider, supplier or billing company, you can contact your local Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP). The SMP helps beneficiaries understand the difference between suspected fraud, errors or abuse and can guide you.

It’s important that you protect your Medicare number as you would your credit card. There are many scams out there no only to steal your identity but to commit Medicare fraud. If you are concerned about your information getting out or fraud, contact Elder Care to help find the SMP in your area.