More than 67,000 seniors in Kentucky are receiving letters this month advertising prescription drug and medical care savings programs from the Social Security Administration. And while financial fraud targeting older Americans is growing – it costs around $2.9 billion a year – these letters are the real deal.
The Social Security Administration letter explains a prescription drug and medical care savings program. But it leads with an exclamation that, frankly, can seem a little scammy: “You May Be Able To Save $1,608 Or More In Medicare Costs!”
Enough seniors thought it was a scam that earlier this week, the National Council on Aging put out a notice that this letter is, in fact, real. The Medicare Savings Program helps seniors pay for hospital and doctor’s office costs. Then there’s another program that helps pay for prescription drugs.
Nancy Moore with the Indiana Association of Area Agencies on Aging says the programs are actually underused. But she doesn’t fault seniors for thinking the letter is a scam. Scammers will often use the same letterhead and logos. That, on top of the aging process, creates a perfect opportunity for scammers.
“There are parts of the brain that as you age, you’re more trusting. You’re smart, but there are just things as you age,” Moore said. “It’s just something that they prey on.”
Moore works with the Indiana Senior Medicare Patrol, a federal grant program that tries to educate seniors and their caregivers about fraud and scams. Moore said it’s hard for the government to get out information about legitimate programs when there are so many scams out there — especially around health care.
As a result, many of the legitimate government programs are underused.
“During the launch of the Affordable Care Act, they were using that as a springboard to fraud seniors into thinking your Medicare is going to change because of the ACA,” Moore said.
Medicare will do away with using Social Security numbers on ID cards starting in 2018 and will soon be notifying enrollees that they must get new ID cards. Moore thinks this will be another opportunity for seniors to get scammed.
Her advice is to never order a medical product from a TV ad or a mailed letter, don’t answer unknown numbers and keep your head on a swivel. And if in doubt, call a local aging agency to verify if that piece of mail is legitimate.
As for the scammy headline that spooked seniors, Brandy Bauer with the National Council on Aging says they’re working on it.
“You want to encourage people to apply for these programs; people don’t want to apply if they think there’s a slim return on investment,” she said. “We’ve worked with Social Security to improve the language.”