The Federal Trade Commission will host a roundtable meeting next week to discuss how to empower and protect consumers from scammers with the advent of healthcare marketplaces opening this fall under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
As Eva Velasquez, president of the Identity Theft Resource Center, reported here earlier this month, enrollees will need to supply their Social Security number, employer, and income information for every member of the household who needs health coverage.
But this information, if compromised, would prove to be very lucrative for an identity thief. Not only would the Social Security number allow a hacker to commit financial identity theft, but the current insurance plan information could allow thieves to commit medical identity theft as well. That’s why the ITRC recently issued a scam alert warning consumers to be aware of fake databases. That’s also why Fox News recently called the health exchanges “a feeding frenzy for scammers.”
And that’s exactly why, as the nation’s consumer protection agency, the FTC wants to bring together experts on the ACA, federal and state consumer protection officials, legal experts, and consumer advocates to discuss key features of the law, state approaches to implementation, and how to help consumers avoid potential scams.
“Consumer Protection and the Healthcare Marketplace” will take place on September 19 at 9am in Washington, DC. To register or for details (the event will also be webcast) email Tracey Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re not able to attend the FTC’s consumer training in person or via webcast, here are 5 key takeaways to remember:
- The health insurance marketplace goes into effect on October 1, and the FTC expects the number of related scams to rise.
- Under the ACA, the government is sponsoring the training of “navigators” who will help consumers register their new healthcare. But some scammers are calling consumers and pretending to be navigators — even before the program has officially launched! Remember that the real navigators can’t ask for “service fees” — it will be free to the public.
- Do not reply to a “phishing” email or “vishing” phone call. What’s the difference? Phishing is an email that looks like it came from a well-known website, like your credit card company, but actually wants you to click a link to a fake website that will collect your personal information for fraudulent use. In comparison, vishing (voice phishing) is when you receive an email that does not contain a link, but rather, it gives you a phone number to call and asks you to provide information over the phone. The phone number looks and sounds legitimate, but your information is being collected and recorded for fraudulent use.
- Don’t give out any personal details when answering a “cold call” by a scammer pretending to work for the ACA. For example, Medicare or Medicaid representatives will not contact anyone by phone to ask for personal information. If you receive a call like this, hang up and report it to 1-800-633-4227. Similarly, if someone knocks on your door asking for more personal details, do not allow yourself to be gullible or misled by a fraudster using scary government terminology. Simply close the door, or hang up the phone the moment someone starts probing for your sensitive financial information, Social Security number, bank account information, driver’s license number, or even birth date.
- Knowledge is power. Check out HHS.gov/healthcare to learn how the new ACA actually will affect your current health insurance and what is/is not part of the program so you can avoid getting your identity stolen or financial accounts compromised.