Robocall experts are warning of a veritable “explosion” in health care-related scams, as con artists around the country take advantage of confusion about recent changes in American health care policy, the Clarion Ledger reports.
Con Artists Take Advantage Of Health Care Uncertainty In New Scams
In December 2017, Congress repealed the individual mandate, a key plank of Obama’s Affordable Care Act that required all Americans to purchase health insurance or face a financial penalty.
While the repeal doesn’t actually take effect until this coming January, robocall scammers have jumped on the opportunity early, sending out a wave of spam calls designed to con unsuspecting consumers out of their money or personal information.
Individual Mandate Repeal Takes Effect In 2019
Since the individual mandate repeal isn’t yet in force, you’ll still need to have purchased insurance for the 2018 tax year to avoid the Affordable Care Act’s penalty. But confusion about the change has opened the door for scammers large and small. So has another recent change, in which the Trump Administration rescinded Obama-era rules around short-term health plans, which can now last for up to a year and be renewed for an additional three years.
Scammers have seized on turmoil in the health care industry to foist a new surge of fraudulent schemes on consumers. Exploiting uncertainty about the GOP tax bill that repealed the individual mandate, and similar confusion over short-term health plans, con artists have taken to the phone lines in droves, sending out a flood of robocalls that seek to swindle consumers out of their financial resources.
“There has been an explosion of health- and health insurance-related scams that use a variety of pretenses to collect personal information or payments for insurance that’s never delivered,” YouMail CEO Alex Qulici told CBS News. YouMail offers a free robocall blocking service for mobile phones, and compiles many of the industry’s most-trusted statistics on robocalling trends.
Robocall Scams Break Records Again
In August, YouMail recorded a record high of 4.2 billion robocalls; about 409 million of these calls, the company says, were health care-related. The surge is unprecedented, a 10-fold increase over previous estimates. But it’s not an entirely unexpected phenomenon. Scammers frequently take advantage of new and confusing developments in the law, then pose as federal officials or law enforcement authorities to trick consumers out of their hard-earned cash. “Crooks see what’s in the news, and they try to leverage it,” Qulici explains.
Identity Theft Scams On The Rise
True to form, robocall scammers have taken to the recent changes in health care policy with alacrity. Some of the new robocalls pose as legitimate health insurance companies, offering cheap insurance plans that never actually materialize. The scammers accept an initial premium, then run away with the money.
Most of the recent scams, however, have been focused on obtaining personal information. YouMail uses its technology to record the scripts that automated robocalls use to swindle consumers, then analyzes the wording to figure out what the crooks are looking for. “Right now,” Qulici says, “you see a lot of them saying that the consumer can get a big discount on health insurance. And since we’re used to giving a ton of private information when we apply for health insurance, you might not suspect anything when they ask for your Social Security number.”
Experts are quick to note that you should never give out your personal information on the phone, unless you absolutely trust the caller. Legitimate insurance companies don’t just call out of the blue.
Illegal robocalls have surged in recent months to reach record levels. YouMail estimates that a total of 4.2 billions robocalls were placed in August, around 1.76 billion, or 42%, of which have been judged to be illegal scams. Yet again, it’s a monthly record for a year that has stretched credulity and tested the sanity of consumers across the country.
The Paradox Of Efficient Call Blocking
Quilici believes that illegal robocalls are on the rise because we’re getting better and better at blocking them. Along with YouMail’s own robocall blocking solution, a host of small companies have entered the market with apps and software that scan calls, identify robocalls and block them proactively.
Major telecom players have also joined the fray. Verizon, Sprint, AT&T – today, nearly every telecom company offers its own robocall blocking service for subscribers. Some companies have even introduced premium services that, for an extra fee, offer additional functionalities.
“You have blocking services like ours,” says Quilici, referring to YouMail’s call blocking software, “that are really reaching scale, and more and more carriers are rolling out tools to block the calls or at least make their customers aware of the type of call that’s coming in. There’s higher volume because the scammers can’t get through, so they have to call again.”