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Friday, Apr 04 2014 04:00 PM

ACTION LINE: Protect yourself from Medicare fraud

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    By Contributed photo

    Blair Looney, president and CEO of Better Business Bureau of Central California.

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BY BLAIR LOONEY Contributing columnist

Dear Action Line: We had a man knock on our door this week. He said he was with Medicare and wanted to make sure we were taken care of. He told me that he could get any kind of free medical equipment that we might need or want.

I told him we didn't need anything, that we were healthy and able. He said he could get us wheelchairs, nebulizers, walkers, oxygen tanks. We do not need any of those things. He was really pushy. What do we do? Is there someone we can report him to?

Dear Reader: You are right to be concerned. Medicare fraud is a growing industry among scam artists and is costing all of us more and more each year.

You can report abuse at www.stopmedicarefraud.gov or www.medicare.gov.

Here are some tips from Medicare to help keep you safe:

Be suspicious of anyone who:

* Asks for your Medicare number in exchange for free equipment or services or for "record keeping purposes"

* Tells you that tests become cheaper as more of them are provided

* Advertises "free" consultations to people with Medicare

* Calls or visits you and says they represent Medicare or the federal government

* Uses telephone or door-to-door selling techniques

* Uses pressure or scare tactics to sell you expensive medical services or diagnostic tests

* Offers non-medical transportation or housekeeping as Medicare-approved services

* Bills home health services for patients who are not confined to their home, or for patients who still drive a car

* Bills Medicare for medical equipment for people in nursing homes.

* Bills Medicare for tests you received as a hospital inpatient or within 72 hours of admission or discharge

* Bills Medicare for a power wheelchair or scooter when you don't meet Medicare's qualifications

Scammers that use the cover of Medicare can also be looking to steal your identity. Identity theft happens when someone uses your personal information without your consent to commit fraud or other crimes. Personal information includes your name, Social Security, Medicare or credit card numbers.

The crime takes many forms.Identity thieves may rent an apartment, obtain a credit card or establish a telephone account in your name. You may not find out about the theft until you review your credit report or a credit card statement and notice charges you didn't make -- or until you're contacted by a debt collector.

Identity theft is serious. While some identity theft victims can resolve their problems quickly, others spend hundreds of dollars and many days repairing damage to their good name and credit record.

Protect yourself. Keep your personal information safe. Don't give your information out over the Internet, or to anyone who comes to your home (or calls you) uninvited. Give personal information only to doctors or other Medicare-approved providers.

To see if a provider is Medicare-approved, call:

* 800-MEDICARE (800-633-4227)

* 877-486-2048 (TTY users)

Learn more about identity theft from the Federal Trade Commission and your Better Business Bureau.

-- Blair Looney is president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Central California. Send your consumer concerns, questions and problems to Action Line at the Better Business Bureau, 1601 H St., Suite 101, Bakersfield, CA 93301 or info@cencal.bbb.org.

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