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Confusing times breed scams targeting seniors

October 21. 2013 11:34PM

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Confusion over Medicare, Social Security, the Affordable Care Act and other government programs are a scammer’s dream, and senior citizens are prime targets, officials warned Monday.

Trula Hollywood, the executive director of the Area Agency on Aging for Luzerne and Wyoming Counties, said seniors “are so anxious right now and confused that this is really a prime time for scams.” And to compound matters, this is open enrollment for Medicare, so seniors are really getting calls from government officials.

But, Hollywood said, officials will never ask for personal info such as Social Security or bank account numbers.

Such a scam seems like it would be obvious to most, but Hollywood said that when it comes to health care, seniors often let their guard down if there’s any threat of losing coverage.

At the South Side Senior Center in Scranton on Monday, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, announced he had filed a friend of the court brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit regarding one scam that fleeced hundreds of thousands of seniors nationwide, including thousands in Pennsylvania, out of $39 million.

The brief urged the court to permit a class-action suit move forward. Recently, Judge Juan Sanchez in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania denied class certification and attorney Howard Langer is appealing that denial to the Third Circuit. Casey’s brief would support the case moving forward.

Joining him in filing the brief were fellow U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, D-Jenkintown.

According to the court filings in the federal case, telemarketers posing as Medicare officials contacted senior citizens suggesting that they update their health insurance cards. Seniors expressing an interest in this offer were then asked to supply their bank account information.

Rather than receiving new health insurance cards, however, seniors next learned they had been signed up for so-called discount health plans that they had never agreed to, offered by companies they had never heard of and for which their bank accounts had been debited $299.

“Pennsylvania seniors who were harmed by this scam deserve a path to justice,” Casey said. “Fraud against vulnerable seniors is a cowardly crime, which is why I’ve introduced legislation to increase penalties on those who would scam seniors. I’m hopeful that by filing this brief it will allow this case to move forward so impacted seniors have their day in court.”

Hollywood said that while she had not specifically heard of this case, the underlying ruse plays out every day across the nation. She said seniors are often scoped out, with some scammers going as far as searching obituaries to gain personal information and act when a widow or widower is most vulnerable.

Throw in real concerns about government shutdown and its potential effect on programs such as Medicare and Social Security, and seniors are even more on edge and perhaps more prone to fall prey to fraudulent deals.

“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” Hollywood said.

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