(12/15/2006)
The deadline to sign-up for a 2007 Medicare Prescription Drug Plan is December 31 and thieves and scam artists are using the current open enrollment period to target seniors in West Virginia.

They are preying on concerns about making correct choices about Medicare drug plans and avoiding penalties.

In the most prevalent scam, known as the "$299 Ring," callers identify themselves as representing a legitimate-sounding organization.

Examples of these nonexistent groups include "Pharma Corp" or "Pharma Express," "National Medicare Office," or "National Medical Office." There have even been reports of callers claiming to be from "Medicare" or "Social Security."

The caller then provides personal information about the individual, such as their name, their bank's name or their doctor's name.

"This ruse helps reinforce the notion that the caller is legitimate," said Scott Adkins, Project Director of the West Virginia Senior Medicare Patrol Project, a program of the AARP Foundation.

Callers offer to "help" the individual by making the Medicare Part D enrollment process easier, simplifying their choices or helping them to access benefits or save money.

Then they ask for personal information from the individual, such as their Medicare number, banking information, credit card number to process a payment.

Beware!

The caller usually explains that this one-time fee, typically $299-$399, will ensure that their premiums will be paid for several years or for their lifetime.

Callers can be very persuasive or even become quite aggressive in their attempts to convince individuals that they must provide requested information.

"I cannot stress enough how ripe the climate is for potential fraud and abuse," Adkins said.

"Prevention is the key to stopping fraud associated with the new drug plans.

If we can get the word out, beneficiaries can avoid falling victim to these scams." Adkins warns, "No legitimate Part D provider can ask a Medicare beneficiary for bank account or other personal information over the phone.

Guard your Social Security, Medicare, credit card and bank account numbers...and never, ever give these numbers to a caller.

If you receive this type of call, ask for the caller's name and number and say you'll call them back.

If they become rude or intimidating, hang up the phone.

You can then call the West Virginia Senior Medicare Patrol Project at 1-800-799-4638 or Medicare at 1-877-7SAFERX to discuss or report the situation.


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