If you worry about keeping your Social Security number safe, you’re not alone. For years, loss or theft of Social Security numbers has left consumers vulnerable to a number of costly scams.
With recent plans for Medicare to cease use of Social Security numbers for identification, the federal government has taken a significant step to protect consumers. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services last year announced plans to send out new cards featuring Medicare ID numbers rather than Social Security numbers. Under a law passed in 2015, CMS has until April 2019 to remove Social Security numbers from all Medicare cards.
What do you need to know about the new Medicare cards, and how can you protect yourself from scams involving your Social Security number?
Switching Over to Your New Medicare Card
If you’ve received your new Medicare card with an 11-digit identification number — a combination of numerals and letters — you will need to start using it for any medical appointments. CMS advises that, for security purposes, you should not carry your card with you unless you’re on your way to an appointment. If you want your card with you at all times, you can make a copy and black out all the identifying numbers except the last four digits.
If you’re enrolled in Medicare Advantage, you’ll continue using the card your insurance carrier has provided you; that card should not include your Social Security number. However, you also may need to show your new Medicare card at your doctor’s office.
New Cards Spark New Scams
The new Medicare cards are meant to help curtail fraud by removing Social Security numbers, but the effort has had an unintended consequence: a series of new scams. Because most older adults haven’t seen the new cards and do not have much information about them, scammers have gained a new tool.
In some cases, fraudsters are telling seniors that they owe a fee for the new cards. However, CMS has made it clear that Medicare participants don’t need to take any action to receive their new cards, as long as the correct mailing address is on file. The cards do not come with any fee or activation process, and Medicare representatives will not call recipients or require that they verify any information by phone.
Another scam involves Medicare recipients being told that they have a refund waiting on their old Medicare account and that they must provide banking details to process a refund. But don’t fall for it. Fraud experts advise that if anyone calls you and asks for financial or personal information relating to Medicare, you should simply hang up.
Protecting Yourself From Medicare Fraud
One of the most important things you can do to protect yourself is properly disposing of your old Medicare card once your new one arrives. Your old card includes your Social Security number, which is highly valuable to potential identity thieves.
Be sure to destroy your old card by shredding it; don’t simply toss it in the trash or recycling. In addition, you should always protect your Medicare card as if it’s a bank card or a credit card and only give out the number to your authorized medical providers.
When you see your doctor or receive any medical services, make note of the dates and services you received on a calendar, and save all your receipts and other paperwork to refer back to later.
When you receive a bill or statement from a medical provider, check carefully for errors. In addition, check to ensure that the dates and services you wrote on your calendar match the information in the statements you receive from Medicare. CMS also advises checking your claims as soon as possible by visiting MyMedicare.gov or calling 1-800-MEDICARE.
Monitor your financial accounts and credit reports carefully for any suspicious activity, and consider placing a security freeze on your credit; doing so is a powerful tool in preventing identity theft.
If you believe that you’ve been a victim or someone has used your name, Social Security number or other identifying information to commit Medicare fraud, you should report your suspicions. Call the number above, or report fraud online to the Office of Inspector General, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.