Older Americans may be accustomed to having their Social Security numbers used as identifiers, especially for important purposes like military service or healthcare.

But skyrocketing rates of identity theft and data breaches over the past few decades have led to a lot more caution when it comes to our personally identifiable information. Savvy consumers now know that their SSN, driver’s license number, birthdate, and other key details can be used by a thief.

Unfortunately, there are some things you just can’t get around. Any time an older adult uses their Medicare card, for example, their SSN is visible right on the card. Going to see the doctor, picking up prescriptions, and other everyday tasks mean putting their most sensitive information in the hands of a stranger and hoping no one copies it.

But that’s about to change. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will begin mailing new cards to Medicare recipients and these cards will replace the owner’s SSN with a Medicare-specific identifier number. It will take about a year for all Medicare recipients around the US to receive their cards, and that can spell trouble for the users in the meantime.

During this transition time, your original Medicare card will still be valid. That means you still need to protect it just as you have before, and you will need to destroy it according to the mailed instructions when your new card arrives. This turnover to the new cards also means scammers may already be preparing to lure victims into giving them money or information.

If anyone contacts you and claims to be from the Social Security Administration, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a doctor’s office or hospital, a pharmacy discount program, or any other related entity, STOP. Think about what they’re saying and what they’re requesting before you take any action. Remember, no matter how plausible it sounds, don’t be fooled into turning over money or your personal information. You will not have to pay a fee for your new card, and, no, your coverage for healthcare or prescriptions will not be stopped if you fail to “register” or verify your information with the caller.

If you are contacted by anyone claiming to need access to your information, take their name, phone number, employee identification number, and the company or agency they claim to work for. Hang up, then look up the number for that agency yourself; do NOT simply call the number they provided, as you may be calling the scammer right back. Using a verified phone number, report the phone call to an agent and make sure that everything is secure with your account.


Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.