STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Also in Your Health on this Monday, some senior citizens face a threat, not from disease but from con artists. Law enforcement agencies say unscrupulous health insurance salesmen prey on the public's confusion over big changes in the health care system.
Here's reporter Jenny Gold.
JENNY GOLD, BYLINE: One recent morning, 86-year-old Evelyne Lois Such was sitting at her kitchen table in Denver when the phone rang. She didn't recognize the phone number or the deep voice on the other end of the line.
EVELYNE LOIS SUCH: He asked are you a senior and I said yes. And he said, well, we are sending out all new Medicare cards and I want to make sure I have all of your statistics just correct.
GOLD: At first, it didn't seem too fishy. He started by running through her address and phone number, just to make sure they were right.
SUCH: Then he gave me some numbers and said is this your routing number for your bank. I didn't know really at the time whether it was or not. But I just said no. He said, well, could you give it to me so I have it correctly. And I said, well, I'm not so sure about that. And he started to say something and I hung up.
GOLD: That's when she knew something was very wrong.
SUCH: I hadn't even gotten out of my kitchen chair and the phone rang again, and it was the same voice, and I hung up.
GOLD: She scribbled down the number from caller ID and dialed Medicare to report the scam.
SUCH: I kind of thought it was funny at first, and then I thought, you know, how dare they? There are some seniors who aren't well and don't think as well as they, you know, used to, and it just made me angry that they would be victimized like that.
GOLD: Seniors are often targets of these sorts of scams. They're more likely to be home to answer the phone and they tend to have retirement savings that scammers hope to tap. But they aren't the only victims. The federal government received nearly 83,000 complaints of these types of scams last year - up 12 percent from the year before. And recently, more and more of them are health-related.
JAMES QUIGGLE: America's rife with health scams.
GOLD: That's James Quiggle of the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud.
QUIGGLE: Crooks are offering fake health coverage, stripped-down policies masquerading as real coverage, they're also selling what they're lying is a fake Obamacare coverage. People are very confused about what health reform is really offering. Crooks are playing on that confusion. Confusion is a crook's best friend.
GOLD: Recent polls have found that well over half of Americans say they're still don't understand how the new health law will affect them. And that's the perfect opportunity for scammers to strike, says Lois Greisman, who works for the Federal Trade Commission.
LOIS GREISMAN: Fraudsters are as attuned to what's going on in the news as anybody else. Before Katrina hit land, websites were up soliciting funds to help victims of Katrina. This is not a surprise. This is par for the course.
GOLD: She says the problem here is that a program as vast as the health care overhaul makes for a pretty big twist. Greisman and her team are working to take down the scams as quickly as possible. But there are an endless number - scammers range from just your average amateur looking to make a quick buck, to well-organized crime rings that mass-produce fraud.
GREISMAN: The first line of defense is don't take a call from out of the blue from anyone who's offering to help you navigate the new healthcare market. Those kinds of cold calls just shouldn't take place. Same thing with an unsolicited email, an unsolicited text.
GOLD: Many people see through those sorts of simple scams, says Sally Hurme, who's an elder law attorney at AARP. But it only takes one.
SALLY HURME: Even if one in a thousand falls for the scam and gives up information or agrees to send information off to who knows where, they've made their day. That's what their job is.
GOLD: Fake insurance policies, phone scams, glossy postcards claiming to be from the feds - the country is likely to see more and more as the Affordable Care Act ramps up.
Savvy senior, Evelyne Lois Such, offers this advice for others who get a suspicious call.
SUCH: Don't answer too quickly, think about an answer you give them and why they're asking.
GOLD: And don't give up personal or financial information over the phone. Better yet, just hang up.
For NPR News, I'm Jenny Gold.
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INSKEEP: The Jenny story comes from a partnership between NPR News and Kaiser Health News, which is a nonprofit news service.
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INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
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