Judging by the folks I talk to, we’ve been pretty well-educated on how important it is to keep your social security number private.

But we also need to know other private information can be just as desirable to scammers, and they are clever and devious in ways to pry this information from us. In particular, medical information is a valuable commodity very necessary to commit health care fraud. 

Is this a serious problem? Well, yes. In 2018,  the FBI announced the indictment of 601 people nationwide for health care fraud. This scheme cost Medicare, Medicaid, TRICARE (the health provider for military dependents), and private insurance companies $2 billion. Health care fraud requires two things for success: Crooked medical providers and access to at least some medical information for real people.

How do these thieves get that medical information? They can hack into the databases of hospitals or clinics. There is not much we can do on an individual level to guard against that. But, often the thieves get this information by just asking for it. 

A Clinton woman told me her story on this topic, and it illustrates how clever some criminals can be in persuading us to give up personal information. 

The woman, I’ll call her Vanessa, suffered from a chronic diabetic condition and a heart condition. A man called her asking if she took a certain medication, and Vanessa responded truthfully. The caller claimed he represented a law firm filing a lawsuit against the pharmaceutical manufacturer of this medication, and wanted Vanessa to join the suit. He promised her a “five-figure payout.” Vanessa refused to participate in the suit, but in the back and forth with the caller, gave away her full name, address, birthdate, and insurance information. 

When Vanessa and I talked about this, her account seemed to show the caller was more interested in Vanessa’s personal information than in her participation in any lawsuit. 

Vanessa’s story shows how shifty callers can trick people, but sometimes they do just flat out ask for your Medicare numbers. This morning, I interviewed an elderly rural Sabula couple I’ll call them Reggie and Mary.

Mary got a phone call from a woman who spoke with a strong accent. The caller said she called from Medicare, and wanted to verify the new card’s number. This caller persuaded Reggie and Mary to reveal their Medicare numbers, and Reggie’s social security number, by telling one lie — she worked for Medicare.   

Everyone in the consumer protection field expected these kinds of calls with the rollout this year of new Medicare numbers. Just remember, Medicare will not call you. Period. Expect a letter from them about any issues that come up.

The Iowa Attorney General announced on that his office joined efforts by the Federal Trade Commission and authorities from all forty-nine other states in an initiative to curtail veteran-related charity fraud. 

The attorney general’s media release warns of organizations with “sympathetic-sounding names” soliciting donations on behalf of disabled veterans, homeless veterans, unemployed veterans, or veterans suffering from mental health issues.

These charities use online marketing, telemarketing, direct mail, door to door, and booths at retail locations to raise money. The crooked ones raise money, and use none — or almost none of it — to benefit veterans.  Instead, the money is used to pay professional fundraisers, executive’s salaries, or simply stolen to finance the lifestyles of the charity’s organizers. 

The attorney general named several organizations his office took action against:

• Healing Heroes Network

• Help The Vets, Inc

• Healing American Heroes

• Veterans of America

• Operation Troop Aid

• Viet Now

• Trauma Support Network

• Veterans Relief Network

Those are some pretty “sympathetic-sounding names” for sure. But don’t get taken in by the names. A couple of times every month, I get a visit from someone clutching a piece of mail from some vets organization, wondering if it is legitimate. These are charities which warrant a lot of scrutiny, if you want to support that cause. These are a few tips from the attorney general to use in your screening of vets’ charities, or any charity:

• Ask how much of your donation will go to support the program the charity is pitching

• Check if the charity is registered with the Iowa Secretary of State as a non-profit

• Check their rating with Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, or Wise Giving Alliance. 

• Ask for the charity’s website and physical location

• Don’t pay with cash, gift card, or by wiring money, and consider paying with a credit card, which gives you the option to later dispute a payment

• Be wary of charity solicitations involving veterans. There’s far too much fraud in this charity sector to take such a charity at face value.

 Let me know about scams, fraud, or other crookedness you run across. Most of what I learn, I learn from you. Contact me at Seniors vs. Crime, Clinton County Sheriff’s Office, 563-242-9211 extension 4433, or email me at randymeier@gapa911.us.