C.W. Gusewell

THE KANSAS CITY STAR

Medicare scammers don't care about you

Some scams are devilishly devious. And some are comically clumsy.

I hear once or twice a year from someone claiming to be a banker or a lawyer in Nigeria, asking my help in moving a large sum of money out of that country and into a client’s account abroad.

My part in this transaction would be quite simple. All that’s required is that I permit my U.S. bank account to serve as a landing place for the fund transfer.

Of course, there would be certain fees to be paid, but the sum was trifling compared to the commission I would receive for my cooperation – an amount beyond my wildest imaginings.

Would I be so kind as to provide the name and address of my bank, and the number of my account?

These transparent and numbingly stupid invitations come to me by email, and I reply immediately: Your message has been forwarded to the fraud office of the Missouri attorney general. Enjoy your next visit to our state.

It’s a bluff. I don’t know if such an office even exists. But what’s astounding is that some credulous individuals actually get taken by the scheme. And seniors, it seems, are the scammers’ demographic of choice.

A friend and contemporary received a phone call this past week, notifying her that the current Medicare cards – the ones with the red, white and blue stripes across the top – were being phased out. A replacement card would be issued, the caller assured her, but the old one no longer would be valid.

Evidently, scamming is a global growth industry, for this overture wasn’t from Nigeria. The man’s heavily accented voice on the line was South Asian.

First, he said, he wanted to verify her address and phone number. He read them out, and they were correct – not unduly surprising, for those are facts of public record.

“Also,” he continued, “we’ll need the name of your bank.”

And at that point, the warning flag went up. It wasn’t a rat the friend smelled. It was more like a dead elephant.

She hung up and dialed Medicare. No, she was told, there wasn’t any plan to issue new cards. And, in any case, what interest would the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services possibly have in knowing where she banked?

Next she contacted AARP, the national organization representing the interests of seniors, thinking it might want to alert its members to the scheme.

Her last call was to her digital phone and TV provider. She hadn’t noted the caller’s number, but she wondered if it might somehow be retrieved.

“It’s possible,” said the technician at the cable company. “Turn on your television and we’ll give it a try.”

He instructed which buttons on the remote to push, and in only moments the relevant number appeared on the TV screen.

Predictably, though, it was useless. Dialed repeatedly, it didn’t even ring.

Nothing but dead silence on the line.

My friend found the experience troubling, and more than a little alarming, a bit like a car wreck narrowly missed.

So here’s a bit of advice. If you get a call from area code 347, a Brooklyn, N.Y., exchange, and the number happens to be 418-0489, and if the voice on the other end has that far-side-of-the-world accent you often hear when you dial customer service, don’t bother trying to be polite.

Just tell him he’s on call forwarding to your local police. And put the receiver down with enough authority to make his ears ring.