Protect yourself and your loved ones from medical scams

Grace Macej 4 Jul 2022

Learn to protect yourself from DME fraud and medical identity theft.

We’ve covered the dangers and necessary defenses against various scams, including romance scams, supply chain scams, financial scams, lottery scams, and vishing scams, but now we turn our attention to what could be the most personal and invasive of scams – the medical scam.

But wait, you might think, wouldn’t ROMANCE scams be the most personal and invasive? To that, we would beg to differ. While romance scams do prey on matters of the heart, medical scams prey on matters of life or death. Your health care, your prescriptions, your treatments, even your diagnoses, are at risk. These scams are particularly unethical in that they take advantage of people dependent on medical help and support. There are two main scams in this category – the medical equipment scam and the medical identity theft scam. 

Medical equipment scams

There is big business in durable medical equipment (DME) fraud. DME encompasses wheelchairs, walkers, braces, and other devices prescribed by doctors to help patients deal with injury or illness at home. 

Fraudsters take advantage of this industry by leveraging the personal information of unsuspecting patients to steal from Medicare. The way they do this is by contacting patients and tricking them into ordering DME by, for instance, telling them they’re eligible for a free device. The scammers then get the users’ health care information and proceed to use it to file false claims, sticking Medicare with the bill for costly devices that, according to AARP, are not medically necessary, not properly prescribed, and typically not delivered to patients at all. 

In December 2021, the owners of two Texas DME companies were sentenced to more than 12 years in prison for a kickback conspiracy that generated false claims costing Medicare $27 million. These are big scams that make big money.

Medical identity theft

The other popular scam is medical identity theft. This is when scammers use your personal information to get treatments, prescriptions, medical devices, or other benefits under your name. A big problem here is that these fraudulent claims go on your medical record and can impact any real treatments you’re receiving. 

Medical identity theft is on the rise, as cases reported to the FTC rose from 6,800 in 2017 to 43,000 in 2021. On the dark web, medical profiles fetch as much as $1,000 each, whereas Social Security numbers go for about $1 each and credit card numbers get up to about $30 each.

How do the scammers get your information? According to experts, it can be through any number of dirty tricks: imposter scams, phishing, data breaches, fake offers for medical freebies, even going through your mail or your trash. This category also encompasses “friendly fraud,” where a relative or friend uses your information. 

Avoiding medical scams

Follow these tips to recognize and avoid both types of medical scams described above.

  • If you get an unsolicited call or email asking for your Medicare number or health insurance plan in order to give you a “free” medical device or any other free product or service, it is most likely a scam.

  • Do not be fooled by scare tactics, such as the claim by a DME provider that you need to order a device now because Medicare is running out of money. Scammers always try to pressure you to act immediately.

  • Do not give your Medicare or insurance number over the phone or in an email unless you initiated the communication. Share that information only with trusted health care providers.

  • Do not accept delivery of medical equipment unless you know it was ordered by your doctor. (If you accept delivery, you could find yourself responsible for part or all of the cost.)

  • Make sure you shred outdated insurance forms, physician statements, prescription paperwork, and other documents containing your medical information before throwing them away.

  • Do not answer questions from a caller who says they are conducting a health survey and need your Medicare or insurance number. 

  • Do not give your insurance information to a family member or friend, even if it’s to help them get treatment – it will still be considered fraud. 

Protect yourself from these scams and, even more importantly, share this information with anyone in your circle who may be vulnerable to such tricks. Learn more from the FTC’s Consumer Advice on medical identity theft. 

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