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Tuesday, October 21, 2014
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Published: Saturday, 10/5/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

Phone, Web scams preying on uninsured area shoppers

BY MARLENE HARRIS-TAYLOR
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Ohio consumers are being warned that phone scams and illegitimate Web sites are being used to scam consumers shopping for health-care coverage.

On Tuesday, uninsured residents started exploring their options amid reports of confusion, technical glitches on the federal Web site, and long delays on the 800 phone line.

Confusion is the perfect breeding ground for scams, said Dick Eppstein, president of the Better Business Bureau of Northwest Ohio and Southeastern Michigan. “We have already had consumers calling saying, ‘I got a phone call saying, “I want to get you your new Medicare card or the card you need for Obamacare.” ’ ”

Some of the health care-related scams surfaced as early as this summer but now that consumers and small businesses are shopping in the heath-care exchanges, Mr. Eppstein expects the problem to only worsen. He predicts the phone-call solicitations will increase and people may even begin going door-to-door claiming to be representing the government.

“Consumers are going to be getting a lot of calls and none of them are legitimate. The government does not call people to do anything,” he said.“The first thing we tell people to do is to hang up, but a lot of seniors don’t like to do it because they don’t like to be rude.”

State officials are also concerned about bogus Web sites taking advantage of consumers shopping online for health options. The state attorney general’s office issued a warning that Web sites trying to mirror the look of the federally run healthcare.gov site have been appearing online for more than a year. Those behind the fake Web sites claim consumers can receive subsidies and buy a policy. They attempt to collect personal information by asking visitors to complete online information forms.

Both online and by phone, the aim of the scammers is to collect personal information such as Social Security numbers from consumers.

The Ohio Attorney General’s and Insurance Offices offer these tips to help consumers avoid scams:

● Guard personal information. Legitimate government representatives will never contact you unexpectedly and request personal information, such as your Social Security or bank account number. If you do give out personal information tied to a potential scam, immediately inform your banks, credit card providers, and the three major credit bureaus.

● Never pay upfront fees. Government program representatives do not sell insurance or demand upfront payment, and navigators (individuals who can provide information about the Affordable Care Act) are free.

● Remember, there is no requirement for consumers to get a new insurance or Medicare card. There is not an “Obamacare” insurance card and Medicare recipients are not required to sign up for new coverage to continue to receive benefits.

● Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Promises about “free” medical devices may signal a scam.

● Get information from reliable sources. Watch out for phony Web sites or individuals who pretend to be associated with the government.

● Report scams or suspicious activity to the Ohio Attorney General or the Department of Insurance. In Michigan, contact the Attorney General or the Department of Insurance and Financial Services.

People need to remember they have plenty of time and there is no rush because they have until the end of March to choose a plan without facing any penalties, Mr. Eppstein said. “If anybody puts pressure on them saying, ‘You have to buy this right now,’ they should watch out,” he said.

The Health Insurance Marketplace is now open for enrollment through March 31. Consumers must sign up by Dec. 15 for coverage to begin Jan. 1.

Contact Marlene Harris-Taylor at: mtaylor@theblade.com or 419-724-6091.



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