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ObamaCare launch creates opening for scammers

Confusion over the October launch of a major part of ObamaCare is turning the health care overhaul into a feeding frenzy for scammers scheming for ways to swindle unsuspecting Americans. 

Consumer watchdog and advocacy groups like Fraud.org, the Federal Trade Commission’s division of marketing practices and the AARP are just the latest to issue warnings to their members about spikes in scams tied to the October roll-out.

The Affordable Care Act, commonly called ObamaCare, was passed in 2010, but many of its major provisions have not yet taken effect. On Oct. 1, new health plans will be offered through a government-run marketplace or health care "exchange." There are still many details left to be ironed out, which scammers are banking on.  

The goal for fraudsters is to steal medical identities – which includes a person’s address, Social Security number, Medicare number and medical history.

Having access to this information allows thieves to obtain medical care, buy prescription drugs, fake intake forms, order supplies and submit fraudulent insurance claims to the government, Sam Imandoust, a legal analyst at the Identity Theft Resource Center, told FoxNews.com.  

Social Security numbers go for about $1 on the black market, but medical records are much more lucrative for con artists and fetch up to $50 a pop. 

Imandoust said those typically targeted include “the elderly and those on a lower socioeconomic scale or going through tough times.”

The victims of medical identity theft are likely to have their credit crushed, and be out a lot of money and time trying to reverse the damage.

One way scammers could capitalize on the lack of clarity tied to ObamaCare involves the websites themselves. The government will go live with the exchanges via its website (www.healthcare.gov) in October. But because 17 states have opted out of the federal program, they will have to offer up their own. That means, 17 unique URLs will be exposed to the threat of security breaches and a world wide web of rip-off artists trying to game the system.

“That will leave a ripe opportunity for imposters,” Imandoust said. “Each state needs to be very proactive about clamping down on security threats.”

The Federal Trade Commission has already issued a consumer alert about one telemarketing scheme, in which callers claim to be a Medicare representative and tell consumers that they need to pony up personal and financial information to continue their medical eligibility.

Lois Greisman, associate director for the FTC’s division of marketing practices, says her agency has received more than 1,100 complaints about the health care overhaul and expects more as the October launch nears.

“We are looking very closely at the complaints we receive,” she said in a written statement. “It’s a top law enforcement priority for us.”

In Massachusetts, scammers have deceptively marketed fake health insurances policies and created fake web sites that claimed to sell ObamaCare, targeting seniors to gain their personal information, according to Fraud.org.

In Kansas and Alabama, con artists posing as government employees talked people into giving up their account numbers in order to sign up for fake health care plans. In Nevada, an advertising company says it received faxes from no-name companies that claimed to provide insurance for $29.99.

Another scam involves consumers contacting people by phone or email and saying they need to confirm personal information to send participants a new ObamaCare card, the AARP said.

Yet another scam promises people new Medicare cards are being mailed out. 

"This time, fraudsters claim that in order to continue receiving benefits, you must provide your bank account and routing number for a direct-deposit of entitled reimbursements,” the organization warns on its website. “That claim is also a lie: No new Medicare cards are being mailed out.”

Other ploy includes trying to sell people fake coverage and then asking for the money to be sent via a wire transfer.

For the most part, experts agree the best way to fend off fraudsters is for people to arm themselves with knowledge about the health care exchanges and to dispense a dose of common sense when it comes to giving out personal information.

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