Robocalls and the 2018 Health Insurance Open Enrollment Period.
Open Enrollment is the perfect time for robocall scammers to take advantage of unsuspecting consumers.
Between November 1st through December 15th, most people have the opportunity to select a new health insurance plan (some states vary), which means scammers will be on the lookout for people they can take advantage of because of the looming deadline and government requirements.
During an interview with WBRC FOX6, James Quiggle with the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud states, “Robocalls are raining down on consumers [in] epic numbers right now… They’re peddling fake health insurance [and] watered down junk coverage that’s not worth the paper it’s printed on.”*
Health Insurance is the Top Robocall Scam
“In the first eight months of this year , robocalls were up 33.2% to 28.5 billion total calls, compared to 21.4 billion in the first eight months of 2017…The top five scam types have changed dramatically over the course of the year. In August , the top five scams were Health Insurance Scams, Interest Rate Scams, Easy Money Scams, Search Listing Scams, and Home-Related Scams.”
In fact, there are far more health-related robocall scams than any other type of scam.**
Common Open Enrollment Scam Tactics
If you answer a robocall and press any number (for any reason), you may be exposed to one of these scams.
Offering Assistance for a Fee
Be wary of anyone offering to assist you with selecting your healthcare plan. They may call themselves a “navigator” or “certified application counselor” and claim they are an expert at helping people choose and apply for a health insurance plan during Open Enrollment – and for this, all you have to do is pay a small fee.
For real assistance, visit HealthCare.gov to find someone in your area. There will never be a fee.
Selling Misrepresented Coverage
Sometimes you may actually have a legitimate insurance agency call you, but after purchasing a plan with them, you may discover that the plan is not what you thought you bought. Sometimes their “plan” is actually a medical discount plan, a short term plan (aka bridge plan or month-to-month coverage) or a limited benefits plan that is being offered in place of comprehensive, full-coverage health insurance.
Each individual state also has information about health care options available in your area. You can check the National Association of Insurance Commissioners website for more information regarding your state.
For example, the Department of Insurance and Financial Services in Michigan has an entire webpage dedicated to health insurance options.
Saying They are From an Insurance Company
Even if the person says they’re from one of the insurance companies like Blue Cross Blue Shield, do not blindly trust the person. In most cases, large health care companies are unlikely to call you directly with a personal offer.
If the person sounds trustworthy, write down their information and ask them to mail you a paper copy of the details. Do not ever give them your personal information over the phone.
Selling Medicare as part of the Health Insurance Marketplace
The FTC warns against anyone who tries to sell you Medicare over the phone. Medicare is a government-run insurance program and does not call people directly to enroll them.
For legitimate Medicare coverage, you need to go to Medicare.gov for assistance.
For details about how Medicare is or is not related to Open Enrollment, read the “If you have Medicare” article from HealthCare.gov.
While this is not a comprehensive list, here are signs that you may be dealing with a scam.
- Say you must act now.
- Make you feel anxious that if you don’t do what they say, you could lose your chance to sign up.
- Call the insurance “Obamacare” or “Trumpcare.”
- Say you have to pay to order a health insurance card or a medical discount card.
- Ask you to pay an “enrollment fee.”
- Ask you to “verify” information (such as your name) for your new plan with a company you do not recognize.
- Say the plan price is extremely low – and the offer won’t last long.
- Say you need to join some type of group or organization to get the plan.
- Claim a special federal law was just passed.
- Promise you will not have to renew the policy in the future.
- Offer you a multi-year “deal.”
- Insist that enrollment must be done over the phone.
- Refuse to provide detailed, written information about the plan before you are enrolled.
- Promise you the plan is good anywhere.
- Say they work for the government.
- Say they work with the law and remind you there may be a tax or fine.
- Say they are “Anna with the Healthcare Enrollment Center” or “Healthcare Enrollment Services.”
YouMail has actually recorded real robocall scam messages!
Don’t Press Any Numbers – Ever
While it is good advice to not answer calls from unknown numbers, it’s just not always practical. Maybe you are waiting for a call from a business or medical appointment. You might not have these numbers programmed into your phone as saved contacts. Or maybe you run a business. You probably shouldn’t let every customer who calls go to voicemail.
In these cases, when you answer an unknown number, the best way to avoid robocall scams is to not press any numbers for any reason. One common trick they use is telling you to press a number to be added to their “Do Not Call List” or “opt out” of future calls. Don’t do it.
There is only one place where you can put your number on a call blocking list: the “National Do Not Call Registry.”
The Real Do Not Call List
According to the FTC, “You can reduce the number of unwanted sales calls you get by signing up for the National Do Not Call Registry. Visit donotcall.gov to register your number.”*****
You can sign up anytime, and it’s always free.
One unfortunate fact though: even if your number is registered, some scammers will still make it through. These scammers and have found a way to circumvent the registry. Hopefully your robocalls should be diminished despite this.
The FTC does explain that “Even if your number is registered, some organizations may still call you, such as charities, political organizations, and telephone surveyors” and “debt collectors may continue to call you whether your number is on the Registry or not.”******
You may also get legitimate robocalls for flight cancellations, appointment reminders, school closings, tornado warnings, AMBER Alerts and credit card fraud alerts.
They Still Call – What Next?
- If you are not already, register on the National Do Not Call Registry.
- If possible, don’t answer unknown calls. Screen them with voicemail.
- If you are getting multiple calls from the SAME number, block that number.
- If you are getting multiple calls from a variety of numbers, as of right now, in my research, I have been unable to find a definitive solution.
- You may want to try out a service or mobile app that claims to prevent these types of calls. I have not tried any yet – so can’t give recommendations.
- Contact your phone company. They may offer a service that might help. Some charge though, so get all the details.
- Report the calls to the FTC and the FCC. Because these organizations receive an overwhelming number of complaints, you probably won’t get a personal response, but they do keep a database that compiles all complaints which plays a vital role in shutting down the robocall centers.
Some Good News About Ending Robocalls
The FCC is going to start putting pressure on the phone industry, starting in 2019, to work towards a solution. In a recent statement, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said:
“Combatting illegal robocalls is our top consumer priority at the FCC. That’s why we need call authentication to become a reality—it’s the best way to ensure that consumers can answer their phones with confidence. By this time next year, I expect that consumers will begin to see this on their phones.”*******
Legitimate Open Enrollment Help
For help with Open Enrollment that you can trust:
- Go directly to HealthCare.gov
- Check your state’s insurance division
- Call insurance companies directly
When searching for your new healthcare plan this enrollment season, remember to take things into your own hands. Research the insurance companies, seek information, ask questions, and then make an informed decision.
- Learn to Recognize Robocall Scams
- Part I: The many faces of medical insurance fraud
- Part II: 6 reasons to pay attention to medical insurance fraud
- Part III: How to fight medical insurance fraud
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This information is provided for general consumer educational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal, tax or investment advice.