Seniors: Be on Alert for COVID-19 Related Scams and Frauds

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By Barbara Adranly

Scammers are using the pandemic as a means to obtain confidential and personal information from California seniors. Any unsolicited phone call or visit from someone claiming to work for or with Medicare and seeking your Medicare or social security number is a red alert that the person is engaged in a fraud.

In one widespread scheme, the Los Angeles Times reports, fraudsters call Medicare beneficiaries at home, knock on their doors or approach them in the parking lots of grocery stores and pharmacies, then offer them home-test kits for COVID-19 or packages of hand sanitizer, masks and other protective equipment.

What they’re after, explains Timothy DeFrancesca, a special agent with the Department of Health and Human Services’ Inspector General, is personal information such as Medicare numbers, which they can use to bill the federal government for procedures that aren’t performed and costly equipment that isn’t needed. The scammers aren’t constrained by ripping off only Medicare, DeFrancesca adds; armed with this information, “they could use it for any sort of financial fraud scheme.”

Another common scheme, CNN reports, involve phone calls from a person claiming to be a hospital or health care official. The caller states that a relative is in the hospital with coronavirus. The caller then insists upon obtaining the call recipient’s credit card information to pay the hospital bill.

Finally, there has been a surge in individuals and companies advertising and selling products claimed to be a cure or treatment for the coronavirus. Currently, no consumer or over-the-counter health products have been found to treat or prevent the virus. Yesterday, the Federal Trade Commission announced it has sent sent 10 letters warning companies, both in the United States and abroad, to cease making unsubstantiated claims that their products can treat or prevent coronavirus disease. The companies receiving warning letters sell everything from a bundle of supplements called an “ANTI-VIRUS KIT” to “Sonic Silicone Face Brushes” and intravenous (IV) “therapies” with high doses of Vitamin C. While some letters challenge products sold online, others challenge purported treatments offered in clinics or even at a consumer’s home.

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