Sunday, March 29, 2020

You are sitting at home relaxing and the phone rings. The number on caller ID doesn’t look familiar, but you answer it anyway. The caller says that since you have Medicare, you can get a free knee or back brace or some type of medication for your health problem. All you need to do is give the caller a little information. What do you do? Just hang up!

Medicare rules do not permit enrolled providers or suppliers to call beneficiaries with whom they have no prior relationship. This type of calling is called “cold calling.” Quite often these callers will neither identify themselves nor provide any information that lets you identify them. Anytime you receive a call from someone who will not identify themselves, just hang up!

Cold callers are usually well trained in obtaining information and sometimes money from those they are calling. If you, as a Medicare beneficiary, talk to these cold callers long enough, they will obtain information from you that they should not have. It is their job and they do it well. The more you talk to them, the greater the chance that you will provide personal information and remain on cold call lists. The best way to avoid this is to just hang up!

Just as a Medicare beneficiary should not allow a stranger who appeared at their door to enter their house, a beneficiary should not allow them to enter via the phone. Every week at the Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey (SMP) office we receive several complaints about these calls. The best way to handle this problem is to just hang up! Eventually this should get the calls to stop. This may not be an easy way to deal with those pesky calls, but it seems to be the most effective.

“Just hang up!” is a good rule of thumb for all calls from individuals or companies you don’t know. It is especially important if Medicare beneficiaries receive calls claiming to be from Medicare. Remember, Medicare will not call you on the phone seeking personal information. They already know all about you. These calls are from persons seeking personal information so they can, in most cases, bill Medicare for services never provided. The only way Medicare will communicate with you is by mail.

One suggestion that may be of help: Let the answering machine screen your calls. Most people now have answering machines. Don’t pick up the phone if you don’t recognize the number on the ID screen. If the call is legitimate, in most cases they will leave a telephone number to call back. Even then, if you are not familiar with the person or company calling, look up the phone number yourself and return the call. The number that is left on your answering machine may be a number that will connect you to a scam.

The Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey (SMP) is under the auspices of the Jewish Family Services of Middlesex County, 32 Ford Avenue, Milltown, NJ. The SMP is here to answer your questions. Feel free to call the SMP at any time at 732-777-1940 or our hotline at 877-SMP-4359.

The SMP is funded by a grant to the Jewish Family Services of Middlesex County from the U.S. Administration for Community Living. Our mission is to empower and assist Medicare beneficiaries, their families and caregivers to prevent, detect and report health care fraud, errors and abuse through outreach, counseling and education.

By Charles Clarkson and Ed Campell


Charles Clarkson is project director and Ed Campell is coordinator of complex interactions at Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey.