The coronavirus is making a lasting impact on the United States in many different ways. More than 175,000 people have died from the coronavirus, and 57+ million Americans have filed for unemployment. Another noticeable impact is the dramatic increase in scams and identity theft. There have been more than 92,000 COVID-19 fraud reports and $118+ million lost from fraud, according to the Federal Trade Commission. A story published by the Washington Post reports that no event over the last decade has spawned as many schemes or lasted this long.
Since COVID-19 began seriously affecting the U.S. in March, fraudsters and scammers have been trying to take advantage of the situation to steal or misuse people’s personally identifiable information (PII) in any way possible to commit identity theft. Recently, scammers have been taking advantage of the medical space to commit financial identity theft from COVID-19, using many different methods.
Medicare and Medicaid Scams
There is some good news when it comes to COVID-19 scams. COVID-related phishing scams appear to be on the decline. According to CheckPoint, July saw a 50 percent decrease in COVID-19 scams compared to June. However, CheckPoint reported that COVID-19 medical and vaccine-related scams are still in high demand as the race is on to find a vaccine. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General (HHS-OIG) echoes a similar message. The HHS-OIG says scammers are offering tests to Medicare beneficiaries in exchange for PII, like Medicare and Medicaid information to commit financial identity theft.
The AMAC Foundation is so concerned about the current issue that they and Medicare.gov are sending a notice warning recipients of the scams. The HHS-OIG believes fraudsters are targeting recipients with telemarketing calls, text messages, social media messages and door-to-door visits in their effort to steal PII. PII can be used to bill Federal health care and commit financial identity theft fraudulently.
Insurance scams are another financial identity theft concern from COVID-19 with telemedicine being so widely available, as mentioned by the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud. The Coalition warns that costly insurance scams can exploit the burgeoning arms-length telemedicine. Tele-schemes can steal patients’ identities and defraud their insurance policies.
Medical Identity Theft Threat
While fraudsters are using the medical space to commit financial identity theft from COVID-19, there is also a risk of medical identity theft. According to a story published by CBS Dallas, hackers know more people are using the healthcare system, and they know they can take advantage of the situation.
If hackers get their hands on medical records, it could leave a lasting impact. The Senior Director of Threat Hunting and Intelligence at Binary Defense says someone who steals a victim’s identity can go as far as getting an expensive medical procedure done and charge it to the victim’s insurance account. The story suggests consumers give out the bare minimum amount of PII at medical appointments, ensure the provider’s online portals are secure, and ask providers to delete all of their medical records from the database once they are no longer a patient to help reduce their risk of falling victim to identity theft.
What You Can Do
Scammers are using Medicare and Medicaid scams, insurance scams, and a rise in people using the healthcare system to commit identity theft – particularly financial identity theft from COVID-19. However, there are still actions you can take to reduce your risk of falling victim to a COVID-19 scam or financial identity theft.
- Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries should be cautious of any unsolicited requests for Medicare or Medicaid numbers
- Keep an eye out for unexpected calls or messages that ask for PII. If someone receives a message with a link or an attachment, do not click or open anything. (NOTE: A physician or trusted health care provider will approve any COVID-19 tests or treatments.)
- Anyone suspicious of COVID-19 healthcare fraud should report it online to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General or call 800.HHS.TIPS
If you are the victim of financial identity theft from COVID-19, or a COVID-19 scam, you can call the Identity Theft Resource Center toll-free at 888.400.5530. You can also live-chat on our website to speak with an expert advisor.
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