GREENFIELD, Wis. - When a scammer calls, chances are, they’re impersonating Social Security, Medicare or the IRS. Those three agencies consistently rank in the top three in the Better Business Bureau’s list of phone impersonation scams.
Now, one of those scams is circulating again in southeast Wisconsin and senior citizens should be on alert.
Tony Lupo in Greenfield prefers his flip phone to a smartphone. He only uses the phone for making calls and texting.
It’s a mistake to assume those who prefer a simple device are also simple-minded, as a scammer targeting senior citizens found out when he called Lupo on Aug. 22.
"He had said, ‘Did you receive your Medicare insurance card?’" Lupo recalled. "I said, ‘Pardon me?’ and he said, ‘You know, that red, white and blue card.’"
There is no new Medicare card. There hasn’t been since 2018 when Medicare stopped using Social Security numbers as Medicare numbers and switched to randomly generated digits.
Yet, in that transition, a scam was born. It’s been coming in waves ever since.
"Medicare scams are on the uptick," said Lisa Schiller with the BBB of Wisconsin.
The callers are after personal information that can be used to submit fraudulent claims to Medicare.
"Medicare numbers, your name, your birthdate," said Schiller.
In the phone call, scammers may inform members that items like knee and back braces are covered in full by Medicare. Then they charge Medicare for that device, plus other unsolicited equipment amounting to tens-of-thousands of dollars.
The bottom line?
"Medicare, 99% of the time, is never going to call people," said Ingrid Kundinger, senior Medicare patrol project manager.
Kundinger also warns: Don’t trust the name or number that appears on your caller ID. Those can be easily spoofed.
When his scammer called, Lupo asked the man to provide Medicare’s phone number so Lupo could verify it and call back. The caller immediately hung up.
Lupo is using his 30-second conversation to raise the alarm to other seniors.
"I want them to be aware that this can happen to them," said Lupo.
Senior Medicare Patrol of Wisconsin says a third of their phone calls in 2022 have been about the scam. It says Medicare will only call members if the member calls Medicare first. Medicare will ask permission, in advance, to contact members by phone.