The Affordable Care Act is destined to alter the health-care landscape, and scammers are already taking full advantage of all the changes to glean personal and financial information from unsuspecting consumers.
"Scammers are very savvy and pay close attention to whatever is trending in the news," says Miranda Perry, a staff writer for Scambook.com. "It's a perfect storm because there are a lot of changes happening and there's an incredible amount of confusion among the general public."
The rollout of the insurance marketplaces that were created under the legislation has been rocky as the enrollment website has been littered with glitches making it hard for Americans to sign up for coverage. The glitches surrounding the rollout has also created confusion for consumers, making the circumstances even more ripe for scammers.
According to Katherine Hutt, a spokeswoman for the Better Business Bureau, scammers typically take advantage of uncertainty to confuse and frighten people into acting unwisely. And because the marketplaces require divulging personal information, people don't think about it being odd to share their data.Once criminals have the information, they either sell it on the black market or use it to open credit cards, get birth certificates and even driver's licenses in the person's name.
Perry says a popular scam stemming from the Affordable Care Act are phone calls made to seniors from people claiming to be a Medicare representative who needs to update the senior's information because of the new legislation and they need a Social Security number, date of birth and other personal information.
Older consumers are often targeted for scams because they have a higher chance of not being able to properly manage their own finances, have a lot of health care needs and not be technologically savvy.
In another common con, scammers call individuals claiming to have the person's new "Obamacare insurance card" and just need some more information before sending it out, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioner.
The caller will often ask for credit card numbers, bank account information and/or Social Security number.
"First of all, there is no card associated with the Affordable Care Act, so anyone who says you need one is a scammer," says Hutt. "Second, the federal government almost never calls consumers, but sends official letters with information so you can contact them. Third, government officials won't push you into providing information or try to scare you about a looming deadline."
According to consumer advocates, there are red flags people should be on the lookout for when it comes to identify Affordable Care Act scams. First, if someone tries to sell health insurance with a "limited-time-only" premium, be extremely skeptical. Open enrollment for the exchanges runs from Oct. 1 to March 31, which means a rate you are quoted now will still be good throughout the entire season.
Another red flag: Someone trying to pressure you into buying insurance by telling you that you will go to jail if you don't purchase a plan. While the uninsured will be penalized starting in 2014, the punishment is only a fine.
The best way to ward off scammers is to become knowledgeable on how the reform impacts you and what it requires. In addition, be wary of any unsolicited calls, emails or social network posts from so-called government agencies or pushy insurance salesman, says Hutt.
"Never ever give your personal information out to someone who has contacted you," says Hutt. "If you aren't sure, contact the company agency directly using a phone number or website that you know is accurate."