About 50 million Americans are carrying around with them a little card that if lost, stolen or seen by someone else, could compromise their identity, credit and financial futures: a Medicare ID card.
Identity theft experts say we should never carry our Social Security cards in our purse or wallet. In fact, experts recommend the card should be locked up safely at home. But the 50 million Americans on Medicare are carrying around their Social Security numbers in their pockets on their Medicare ID cards.
We’re told to keep our insurance cards on us in case we are in a car accident or have a heart attack or stroke and have to be rushed to the hospital. So what do all the Americans with Medicare do? Carry their cards on them or not?
The Social Security Administration’s web site advises on their website, “to protect identity, Social Security advises not to carry the Social Security card” and acknowledges in their frequently asked questions section, that “Medicare cards must be carried to obtain medical services and they display the full Social Security number (SSN)” and “The potential for misuse of SSNs could result from the need for Medicare recipients to carry their Medicare cards with them is a valid concern.”
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the federal agency responsible for the Mediacre program, recommends that Medicare recipients never give their information to anyone who comes to their home, or calls them, selling Medicare-related products. Personal information should only be given to Medicare, State Health Insurance Assistance Program or Social Security approved doctors and providers. Users can call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) to find out if a provider if Medicare-approved. TTY users should call 1-877-486-2048.
Protection from identity theft for individuals receiving Medicare starts with the users being vigilant about protecting their information. CMS says that users help protect themselves from Medicare-related identity theft by being suspicious of:
· Suppliers offering free equipment
· Suppliers wanting customers to use only their doctors (not allowing customers to use their own doctors)
· Anyone asking for Medicare or Social Security number
· Calls from companies you have never heard of or gave your number to
· Charges for products or services on your Medicare Summary Notice that you didn’t personally receive
Anyone suspecting Medicare fraud, abuse or theft should:
· Call their doctor or health provider about the charge or service
· Confirm that the doctor or health provider is still approved by Medicare (according to CMS, new guidelines recently went into effect, changing who is approved, so users should call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227, TTY users should call 1-877-486-2048), to confirm that the provider is still Medicare-approved. Suppliers can also be verified at www.medicare.gov, by selecting “Find Suppliers of Medical Equipment in Your Area.”
· Anyone that thinks their information is being used by someone else, or suspects Medicare fraud, should contact their local Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP) office, which offers programs on protecting Medicare information, detecting billing discrepancies and reporting suspected errors, fraud,and abuse. Get the SMP Locator at www.smpresource.org or call 1-800-HHS-TIPS (1-800-447-8477). TTY users should call 1-877-486-2048.
Vigilance is your best identity theft shield, and if you need even more help, you may consider ID monitoring, a subscription-based service that monitors your credit, so you are alerted to changes to your credit immediately. Many of these packages include identity theft insurance, credit locking, credit scores and reports and more services to help protect against ID theft.