6 Common Health Scams in The United States

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Have you ever received a call from someone claiming to offer you cheaper health insurance or prescription drugs in exchange for personal information and your credit card number? It may sound too good to be true, and that's because it often is. 

Scammers frequently target older adults who rely on health care services, putting them at risk of having their money or identity stolen. As technology advances, scammers continue to develop new tactics to access your personal and financial information. As a result, it is vital to stay informed and educate yourself and your loved ones about these six common health scams in the United States.

1. Medical Equipment Scams

In October 2023, a report by Lohud revealed that Eric Karlewicz, the owner of a marketing company in Chestnut Ridge, New York, admitted to committing federal crimes. He pleaded guilty to submitting fake claims to healthcare benefit programs, amounting to over $127 million for durable medical equipment. Karlewicz then used the money from this scam to buy fancy cars like a Ferrari, a Lamborghini, a Bentley, and a BMW.

In a fraudulent scheme involving medical equipment, you may be contacted with an enticing offer of a "free" brace, wheelchair, or other device that Medicare will supposedly cover. This can occur through unsolicited phone calls, advertisements, or encounters at health fairs or similar events. Alternatively, it may involve a common government impersonation scam, where a caller purporting to be from Medicare informs you of your eligibility for a complimentary knee or back brace, requesting your Medicare or Social Security number for processing. While you may or may not receive the promised device, the perpetrators obtain the information needed to commit identity theft.

To safeguard yourself from falling victim to this deception, it is crucial to promptly end any unsolicited calls offering medical equipment billed to Medicare. Refrain from disclosing your Medicare or insurance details to unfamiliar individuals, sharing such sensitive information solely with trusted healthcare providers. Avoid purchasing durable medical equipment over the phone unless specifically advised to do so by your physician.

2. Medicare Flex Card Scams

This fraudulent scheme involves individuals posing as Medicare representatives in an attempt to persuade you to purchase a Medicare flex card, which is a prepaid debit card issued by Medicare Advantage plans. Some deceptive advertisements falsely claim that Medicare is distributing flex cards containing hundreds of dollars to be used for groceries and other expenses.

If you encounter an offer to sign up for a Flex Card that is unsolicited, it is crucial to reject the offer promptly. These scammers often entice victims with promises of free money through Flex Cards, only to exploit this bait to illicitly obtain sensitive personal information such as Social Security numbers, credit card details, or bank account information.

Therefore, you need to remain vigilant and cautious when approached with such offers, especially if they are not from a reputable source you have initiated contact with.

3. Dietary Supplement Scams

Vitamins and dietary supplements can provide various health benefits, however, you should be wary of claims suggesting they can treat or cure diseases. The categorization of dietary supplements by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require them to be registered or approved before being marketed to the public. Consequently, many companies take advantage of this loophole to make unsupported claims about the efficacy of their products.

Unscrupulous manufacturers and sellers of fraudulent supplements utilize direct mail and websites, often designed to resemble legitimate news and magazine sites, to promote their products as effective remedies for a wide range of health issues. Unfortunately, an increasing number of so-called dietary supplements have been found to contain illegal drugs or undisclosed substances that pose serious health risks. These dangerous products are often marketed with deceptive claims such as being "100% natural and safe."

To identify potentially harmful supplements, you should be wary of the following red flags:
  • Excessive ingredients: Products with an excessive number of ingredients, particularly those listed as "Other ingredients," may not produce the desired effects. Different ingredients may interact through various physiological pathways, making more not necessarily better.
  • Broad claims of efficacy: Supplements that promise to address a multitude of health concerns, such as digestive issues, skin problems, bloating, and insulin sensitivity all at once, are likely over-promising and under-delivering.
  • Claims of disease prevention, treatment, or cure: Since dietary supplements are not subject to FDA approval, they lack legitimate evidence to support claims of preventing, treating, or curing diseases. It is also illegal under federal law to market dietary supplements as treatments for diseases.
  • Unrealistic reviews: While reading customer testimonials can be informative, it is important not to solely rely on them when making purchasing decisions.
As a consumer, you should exercise caution when considering dietary supplements and be vigilant in evaluating product claims and reviews.

4. Medicare Card Scams

As the number of individuals eligible for Medicare continues to rise, so does the prevalence of scammers seeking to exploit the system for financial gain. According to the Senior Medicare Patrol program, Medicare scams cost Americans a staggering $60 billion annually. By familiarizing yourself with common scam tactics and taking proactive measures to protect your personal information, you can avoid falling victim to fraud.

One prevalent scam to be aware of is the Medicare Card Scam, where scammers may attempt to deceive you by offering a new type of card with a chip, despite the fact that Medicare does not issue cards of this nature. Additionally, fraudsters may falsely claim that your current cards are outdated and no longer functional, prompting you to provide personal information under the guise of "confirming your identity." Once armed with your personal details, scammers can perpetrate identity theft, make unauthorized charges on your accounts, and submit fraudulent claims to Medicare and insurance companies in your name.

Medicare card scams can manifest through various channels, including mail, email, or phone communications. While the method of contact may vary, scammers often employ persuasive language intended to coerce compliance. Exercise caution if you encounter any communication that seems threatening or too good to be true. In the event that you misplace your card or require a replacement, it is advisable to access your Medicare account online to print a new card or request a replacement directly from Medicare.

5. Health Insurance Scams

Health insurance scams are fraudulent schemes that specifically target consumers in search of health insurance coverage, often with the intention of committing identity theft. Scammers are opportunistic and tend to capitalize on current events, such as Medicare open season or major health insurance news stories, to reach out to potential victims.

Some of the most common health insurance scams include individuals contacting you via phone, text, or email and request personal information in exchange for a health insurance quote. Additionally, there are those who offer to assist you in finding health insurance on the Marketplace for a fee, whether it be in cash, wire transfer, or cryptocurrency.

Other scams involve medical discount plans or healthcare sharing ministry plans that are deceptively presented as legitimate health insurance options by unscrupulous salespeople. There are also instances where dishonest agents collect money from clients but fail to send it to the insurance company or complete the enrollment process.

Therefore, you should be wary of sales pitches promoting fake health insurance plans that either offer limited benefits or do not actually exist. Fake health insurance companies may target you online or over the phone, often with promises that sound too good to be true or advertise limited-time offers.

6. Online Pharmacy Scams

a laptop and a shopping cart with drugs

Rogue online pharmacies pose a significant threat to U.S. consumers by offering potentially dangerous prescription drugs. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has taken action by issuing warning letters to website operators engaging in illegal activities that violate the U.S. Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

FDA emphasizes the risks associated with purchasing prescription drugs from rogue online pharmacies, warning that such actions can have severe consequences, including death. Therefore, it is strongly advised that American consumers refrain from buying prescription drugs from websites identified in FDA warning letters.

In addition to the health hazards posed by fraudulent online pharmacies, there are also concerns regarding identity and privacy risks. These illegitimate pharmacies lack the necessary safeguards to protect personal, medical, and financial information. There is a possibility that they may sell this information to third parties, who could potentially use it for identity theft purposes or charge consumers for medications they did not order or receive.

Report Health Scams

If you suspect that you have come across a health scam or website that is unlawfully selling human drugs, animal drugs, medical devices, biological products, foods, dietary supplements, or cosmetics, it is important to take action. Inform your friends and family about your findings, and then report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at ReportFraud.ftc.gov or to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) through their website. Your reports play a crucial role in assisting the FTC and FDA in building cases and putting an end to fraudulent activities.

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