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Alaska Medicare beneficiaries targeted in Affordable Care Act scam

Laurel Andrews

A nationwide scam targeting Medicare beneficiaries has been ramping up in Alaska, state officials report.

The Alaska Medicare office has received seven or eight calls reporting a scam that revolves around the Affordable Care Act. Two of those reports were received on Wednesday, state Medicare fraud education coordinator Nila Morgan said. The reports come mainly from Anchorage, and one came from Southeast Alaska.

Morgan added that for every person who calls and reports a scam, there are likely many more who are contacted and do not report it.

“These scams kind of go in waves,” said Davyn Williams, assistant attorney general in the consumer protection unit, “but it sounds like it really picked up a lot.” 

The increase prompted the department of law to issue a consumer alert Wednesday warning the public of the Medicare scam, along with a general overview of Affordable Care Act scams.

Scammers call beneficiaries claiming they will need new Medicare cards due to the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.  Scammers then ask for personal information, Medicare numbers and bank account information.

Reports allege that scammers are bullying beneficiaries, “using harassment, abusive conduct, and false threats to cut off Medicare benefits,” a consumer alert issued Wednesday states.

Some people have received multiple calls from scammers. One Alaskan "caught by surprise" by the scammers gave them banking information, Morgan said, and then realized something fishy was going on.

Who’s behind the scams? It’s hard to say. Scam are often "copied and repeated" by different groups, so it’s unclear whether one party is perpetrating them, Williams said.

The nationwide scam likely originated from overseas, and “it sounds like the people calling have accents,” Williams added.

Morgan said that telephone records indicate the Alaska calls are coming in from Boston, and confirmed that the scammers have a thick accent.

Scammers may be using stolen information to target beneficiaries. “Callers have reported that (scammers) already have information about them,” Williams said. Scammers also may target a certain age range of demographic.

They are “usually pretty good at targeting” people, she added.

Williams stressed that folks will never receive calls from a government office telling them they’ll be penalized if they don’t sign up for health insurance, or asking for personal or bank information.

If you receive a call like this “our advice is to just hang up,” she said.

To report the scam, you can call the state Medicare office, file a consumer complaint with the Alaska Department of Law, and file reports with the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“If law enforcement agencies (receive) a large number of complaints they may be able to track them down,” Williams said.

Contact Laurel Andrews at laurel(at)alaskadispatch.com and follow her on Twitter at @Laurel_Andrews