Scammers prey on seniors’ confusion over Medicare plans

Scammers prey on seniors’ confusion over Medicare plans

By Dalia Naamani-Goldman

The Daily Northwestern

As if the jumble of new prescription drug programs was not confusing enough, senior citizens now have to worry about door-to-door scams offering to explain the Medicare discount plan.

The Evanston Police Department alerted seniors this week about a “ruse entry scam” involving men who attempt to gain access to seniors’ homes by claiming to provide information about the prescription drug plan.

An Evanston woman reported that two men wearing suits came to her door and asked to come inside to “explain the new prescription drug programs offered by the government,” according to an EPD crime alert released Tuesday.

The woman then asked the two men how they could prove they were in the government.

“Because we’re wearing suits,” the men replied, according to the crime alert. The woman refused to let the men in and called the police.

Amanda Jones, the senior crime prevention specialist at EPD, said the prescription ploy marks a new step in scams directed at seniors.

“For someone to get into a house to ‘explain’ (issues) is a different ballgame,” Jones said. “What makes this sinister is the prescription drug plan is confusing to people.”

The new Medicare prescription plan, which goes into effect June 1, will allow seniors to choose from a variety of privately-operated prescription drug discount cards. The state of Illinois also has a state prescription discount card. Seniors can choose only one card, and the choice can be confusing.

But no government agency is sending anyone into neighborhoods to “explain” the new programs, according to the crime alert.

Jones advised citizens never to give out personal information to anyone saying he or she is a representative of the government, a financial institution or a social service, unless the citizen initiates the contact.

Nancy Flowers, Evanston’s long-term care ombudsman, said the city, along with several other Evanston agencies, is trying to tell seniors that the federal government is not going door-to-door nor is it calling to disseminate information about the prescription drug program.

The government only will discuss the new program through the mail, she said.

Flowers said she is optimistic about the decline of scamming related to prescription drugs in the future.

“Through education, it’s getting better,” Flowers said, noting some Evanston residents are more skeptical about providing personal information even to her. “The more we say, the better.”

Seniors are not necessarily more vulnerable to scams than others, Jones said, but they can become victims of scams as they look for clarity on the drug discount programs.

“We are all vulnerable when it’s an issue that touches a nerve with us,” she said. “I don’t think we can stereotype to say seniors are vulnerable in every way.”

Jones advised residents to call 911 if they are approached with a similar scam.