How to Avoid Being Scammed by Fake Health Services
A guide to avoiding pitfalls for the recently unemployed or uninsured
As of early June, 44-million Americans had filed for unemployment since much of the country shutdown in March due to COVID-19. And of those 44 million, it’s estimated that 45.7 percent of them — or 29.2-million people — also have lost their health insurance.
As you can imagine, many unemployment systems and healthcare providers are under siege with people looking for help.
It’s a nerve-wracking, anxiety-inducing situation on its own.
Making matters worse, some are trying to take advantage of people who are hurting from COVID-19 — whether through unemployment or the loss of health insurance.
Indeed, every year healthcare fraud costs the country anywhere from $100- to $360-billion, according to the National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association.
As unfortunate as it is, the truth is that mis-information exists — and it’s intended to take advantage of vulnerable people. Our quick resource guide will help you navigate those potential scams as well as other pitfalls.
Unemployed and uninsured? Check out our guide to finding healthcare.
Scammers on the rise
According to the AARP, health insurance scams are often prevalent during open enrollment periods, from late October through the end of the year. But they also prey on people who are looking for coverage following loss of employment.
Law enforcement agencies across local, state and federal governments are on high alert of healthcare scams right now.
As North Carolina Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey said in a March 26 press release:
“Crooks will stop at nothing to scam the public, including using the coronavirus as a means of stealing your money, or worse your personal identity. If you get an unsolicited visit, call or email offering ‘corona’ insurance, free or low-costs tests, or seeking personal information, it’s best to close the door, hang up, or exit out of the email and notify the authorities.”
Here are a few quick tips to keep in mind:
- If someone asks for payment for helping you find coverage, it’s probably a scam.
- As a general rule, when shopping for insurance, don’t turn over your personal information to someone who asks for it.
- Look for official government seals and logos.
- If the person you’re talking to is pushy, elusive or evasive, avoid them.
- If you’re shopping for healthcare in the Affordable Care Act Health Insurance Marketplace, do it at healthcare.gov. People who try to sign you up elsewhere just might be scamming you.
Common healthcare fraud schemes to watch for
Healthcare fraud schemes are often effective because they look and seem real. But if you know what to watch out for, you won’t be easily misled.
The AARP says “fraudsters try to convince you they have a simple solution to the complexity and expense of getting covered.”
“They cold-call potential marks or generate leads through websites offering information about ‘comprehensive’ health plans that meet ‘Obamacare’ requirements. Some feature the names and logos of major insurers, or even AARP. People who respond are peppered with pitches promising full coverage with low premiums, deductibles and co-pays.”
Meanwhile, the Department of Justice recently released a list of COVID-19 fraudulent behaviors to look out for. Those included the following, among others:
- Unsolicited healthcare schemes offering treatment and testing
- Robocalls offering respiratory masks
- Unsolicited requests for Medicare information
- Offers of free COVID-19 tests or supplies
- Smartphone apps or websites claiming to be government offices associated with CARES Act programs
The FBI released its own alert about a rise in fraud schemes related to COVID-19, too. At that time, this included fake emails from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, phishing emails related to stimulus checks and counterfeit treatments or equipment.
No one likes surprises
Outside fraudulent behavior, there are other potential pitfalls to watch out for. For instance, surprise bills are still an issue for many Americans.
Short-term plans don’t always cover all of the ACA’s essential health benefits. Many bills are coming from out-of-network doctors and hospitals.
“Unfortunately, surprise bills are still a concern — those are bills that come directly from out-of-network hospitals or doctors who provide your care. Nearly 1 in 5 inpatient admissions for pneumonia results in a surprise bill, according to a KFF analysis. It’s possible members of Congress will try to address this in future coronavirus legislation, but until they do, this will remain a way that people could be exposed to high medical bills.”
Where to turn for help
If you suspect you might have been the target of a healthcare scam, you have local, state and federal resources to turn to.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: 1-800-318-2596
- Federal Trade Commission: 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357) or go to ftc.gov/complaint
- National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association
- Your State Insurance Fraud Bureau
- The official U.S. Government’s site for Medicare: STOP Medicare Fraud
- Your state’s department of insurance. Click here for a list of DOI websites.
What else should you know about COVID-19 and healthcare? Our FAQ-style article has answers.Learn More
Rob Mixer is a writer and content marketer based in Columbus, Ohio. He has nearly 10 years of experience in professional sports and advertising, with clients such as Root Insurance, Ashcroft, Club Car, The Athletic and more.
Julian Dassai is an illustrator, cartoonist and musician from Athens, Greece. Currently an Adjunct Instructor of Illustration at the Columbus College of Art and Design, Julian also has taught workshops in comic book writing and drawing for the Wexner Center for the Arts, The Billy Ireland Cartoon Research Library, Otterbein University, The Pomerene Center for the Arts and Columbus Public Schools. He’s worked in a variety of graphic arts, including magazine illustration, cartooning and album design.
This article was last updated July 21, 2020