When Vince Ames of The Dalles got a call from an unknown number and a person on the other end of the line claimed to represent Medicare and asked for personal information, he knew that a scam was in play.
“He wanted to know about my blood pressure and other health issues, and I told him that I was not going to give him that information,” said Ames, 70.
“He said, ‘Oh, it’s for your own good, Mr. Ames.’ And I told him that he needed to get a real job and quit scaring senior citizens.”
Ames said what concerned him was that another senior might get caught in the scam. So, he called a Chronicle reporter and asked to have a warning published.
“What he’s doing is just not right,” he said.
Although the conversation between Ames and his caller did not develop enough for the man to obtain any useful data, similar scams are bilking people across the United States, or the government itself.
According to the Medicare Resource Center, there are many variations of Medicare fraud, most aimed at obtaining your card number, which can be used to swindle the government.
For example, the caller offers to arrange for purchase of less expensive prescription drugs, or use of a wheelchair. Medicare recipients may also be promised relief from chronic joint discomfort with some type of new brace, or help around the home with cooking and cleaning.
In some cases, such as delivery of an “arthritis kit,” the scammer provides a bunch of Velcro braces and assorted knee and ankle wraps, and then bills Medicare thousands for state-of-the-art equipment.
In all these scenarios, services are either low-level or nonexistent and Medicare is billed top dollar.
A conservative estimate by government officials is that Medicare graft totals about $60 billion a year, roughly 10 percent of the program cost. Some analysts believe the fraud rate could actually be much higher than that.
Medicare warns people to be wary of medical suppliers who contact you out of the blue. Legitimate companies don’t use that sales tactic.
Some of the callers ask for payment and billing information. Real Medicare representatives are not allowed to ask you for payment over the phone.
Although Medicare scams are most frequent during the period of open enrollment, which is Oct. 15 to Dec. 7, they can happen at any time of the year.
Recipients of Medicare are asked to check their monthly statement for suspicious charges they don’t recognize and report them.
The Dalles Police Detective Sgt. Eric Macnab said people should be as cautious with their Medicare card as they are with a credit card.
“Don’t give out personal information over the phone,” he said. “Don’t trust anyone who calls unsolicited.”
Macnab asks people receiving scam calls to let the police department know at 541-296-2613.
“We like to keep track of how many people this is happening, to,” he said.
Catching the bad guys in scams is very difficult, he said, because many of the calls are made from out of the country. Therefore, he said it is important to share information with other community members about the latest fraud schemes that are circulating. He said the types of scenarios played out by scammers are always morphing so people need to err on the side of caution.
Medicare asks that people report activity they think might be fraudulent at 1-800-633-4227 or online, www.stopmedicarefraud.gov.