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GOT YOUR NEW FREE MEDICARE CARD YET?

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AUSTIN, Texas—The U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is mailing new identification cards to Texas Medicare beneficiaries now, and AARP warns that Medicare enrollees are at risk of being victimized by con artists’ fraudulent schemes to capitalize on the card replacement program. The national effort to mail new ID cards to 58 million Medicare recipients began in May, with the cards for 2.5 million Texas enrollees shipping this month. The redesigned cards no longer contain enrollees’ Social Security numbers, a move designed to enhance security and help protect against identity theft. Consumer advocates, including AARP, welcome the development but, ironically, the card replacement program has opened these new opportunities for con artists: •Scammers reportedly pose as Medicare representatives and contact beneficiaries to demand immediate payment via credit card of a processing fee for the new card. No such fee exists. •In other cases, the scammers falsely say that Medicare needs to “verify” a recipient’s Social Security number or other personal information before issuing the card. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid does not make such calls and does not initiate uninvited contact. •Yet another version of the scam tells beneficiaries that they are due a refund on transactions with their old card, and asks them to provide bank account information for the processing of the alleged refund. The AARP Fraud Watch Network launched in 2013 as a free resource for people of all ages. Consumers may sign up for “Watchdog Alert” emails that deliver information about scams, or call a free helpline at 877-908-3360 to speak with volunteers trained in fraud counseling. The Fraud Watch Network website provides information about fraud and scams, prevention tips from experts, an interactive scam-tracking map, fun educational quizzes, and video presentations featuring Fraud Watch Network Ambassador Frank Abagnale. Abagnale, the renowned fraud expert whose personal story was depicted in the hit movie “Catch Me If You Can,” is also host of a new AARP weekly podcast series, “The Perfect Scam,” that launched earlier this year. Editor’s Note: A WORD OF CAUTION – Recently I was contacted by Direct Express – the card company that handles Social Security payments – and told there was a Fraud Alert on my card and it was frozen. They asked for my full name and I told them. They asked for my address and when I gave them that, they said that was not the address on file. Thinking it might still be my old address, I gave them that. They told me that did not seem to be correct either. They said I would have to go to the Social Security Office in person to clear this up. They then asked for my social security number. I gave it to them and as soon as I had done it I thought it odd they would ask for the whole number instead of the last four. They again told me to go directly to the Social Security Office as they could not help me over the phone. Suspicious of them asking for the entire SS number , I did just that and waited two hours to see someone. By that time they had relieved my account of all but $57. I am getting this straightened out but it is going to be a tedious process and one I could have avoided. I share this to show how easy it is to be lulled into giving a total stranger your most personal information. I certainly know better. I have written far too many stories about this not to know.

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