The Senior Medicare Patrol is a federally funded program of the Administration for Community Living, a part of the U.S. Department of the Health and Human Services Administration. Senior Medicare Patrols in each state empower and assist Medicare beneficiaries, their families and caregivers to prevent, detect and report health care fraud, errors and abuse. Jewish Family Services of Middlesex County is the grantee of this program for the State of New Jersey.
On March 13, 2020, a national health emergency was declared due to the coronavirus pandemic. After many years of running the Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey (SMP), I knew it was only a matter of time before we started seeing scams related to the health emergency. Fraudsters are always looking for ways to scam people, and the COVID-19 public health emergency has been no exception. Initially fraudsters promoted false cures, sold phony personal protective equipment, gave people illegitimate COVID tests, and billed Medicare for sham tests and treatments. Now, they are targeting vaccines.
The goals of the fraudsters are very simple: to obtain your information, which they can use to steal your personal and/or medical identity, or to outright steal your money. The SMP has seen a number of vaccine scams. The more you know about these scams the more likely it is you will not fall victim to them.
Head-of-the-Line Vaccine Scams
Scammers call and say you can get your vaccine early by providing your Medicare number or other personal information. They may ask for a payment upfront and/or insurance information in order to be placed on a priority waiting list for a vaccine you may never receive.
Don’t fall for it. You cannot pay to get in line for a vaccine.
Survey Vaccine Scams
You have gotten your vaccine. You then get an email asking you to complete a health survey. It looks legitimate and has logos and telephone numbers that appear to be genuine. You want to be helpful because you are grateful you were able to get the vaccine. Some of these surveys are also offering money or other incentives to entice you to participate. The messages may also claim to be urgent, giving a time frame of expiration to get you to click on their deceptive link to gain personal information.
Don’t fall for it. A vaccine survey offering you an incentive or stating a sense of urgency to complete is a red flag. You should double-check logos and phone numbers and hover over links to see if they are long and suspicious. Don’t click on them.
Vaccine Trial Scams
There are numerous clinical research trials in the race to develop additional COVID-19 vaccines, treatments, and cures. Legitimate clinical trials may offer payments to participants under well-defined legal guidelines. However, career criminals know the offer of a paid clinical trial is also an opportunity for financial identity theft.
Don’t fall for it. Be wary of unsolicited emails, calls or personal contacts requesting personal information. The Federal Trade Commission issued a warning in October 2020 with helpful hints to determine whether a trial is legitimate.
Scammers are setting up fake websites offering to sell vaccines or vaccine kits. Some are imitating legitimate pharmaceutical manufacturers. In some cases, scammers were asking for payment for vaccines and/or kits via a credit card and sending payment to a specific credit union.
Don’t fall for it. You can’t buy a vaccine.
If you think you have been a victim of Medicare fraud, errors or abuse, contact the Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey at 1-732-777-1940 or call their hotline at 1-877-SMP-4359. You can also visit their website at www.seniormedicarepatrolnj.org. If you live in a state other than New Jersey, you can find help by visiting the SMP Resource Center at www.SMPResource.org, Find Help in Your State.
If you have questions related to Medicare billing for COVID-19 vaccines, call 1-800-Medicare or visit www.Medicare.gov.
Charles Clarkson, Esq. is Project Director, Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey.