The Affordable Care Act, also known as "Obamacare," does not directly affect Medicare patients. But that little detail hasn't stopped the scammers from trying to scare senior citizens nationwide.
In one case, the scheme began with a promise, made to 90-year old Lucille Primeau of St. Charles, Missouri.
"He said he could help me lower my monthly Medicare payments..." Primeau, who says she was unsure if the man was from the government, says the man began by telling her he would not need any of her private information. By the end of the call, that changed.
"They used the hot words: Social Security and Medicare, and that's all she heard starting out and that scared her, and then she let him talk," Primeau's son Dave told NBC5 Investigates.
The caller was pitching a benefits card that would save her big money-- if she just paid the $299 annual fee. And to get the card for her, he'd need the last four digits of her bank account.
Lucille says she resisted, but admits the man wore down her resolve.
"He said well, I take care of this for my mother and I thought well, I guess if he's taking care of his mother you know?," Lucille said.
"That's when she softened up and gave him the numbers," her son said.
Federal authorities accuse the company and its cohorts of doing the same deceptive marketing to thousands of victims nationwide. In a lawsuit filed in Chicago last month (link to suit), FTC accuses the companies of
Running a "deceptive telemarketing campaign" Pretending to be :"affiliated with a u-s government program" But whose "sole purpose was to obtain consumers' bank account information"
"Even though specifically it doesn't reference the Affordable Care Act, I think- again-- consumers could be confused and think, okay-- that's something required by the new law," FTC's Todd Kossow told NBC5 Investigates.
This case just one example of recent wave of scams related to health care concerns and confusion.
NBC5 Investigates compiled an extensive map of scams reported nationwide.
In Alabama, reports surfaced about scammers offering government insurance, in exchange for customers' bank account numbers.
In Massachusetts, authorities were alerted to fake websites created to sell Obamacare, targeting seniors and their financial information. In
In Arizona, a senior was duped after being told there were "only twenty spots left" in an insurance plan. And New York and Florida, where scammers traveling door to door told uninsured consumers they would face jail time if they didn't sign up on the spot.
"Scam artists, I think, are starting to take advantage of the confusion and uncertainty in consumers' minds as to what the law requires," Kossow said. "And they're using it to get consumers to either part with their money, or their personal and financial information."
Lucille Primeau's part of this story has a good ending. She and her son mobilized to alert her bank about the caller, and the scammers did not get a penny from her. The Primeau's then reached out to the Better Business Bureau in Wisconsin, where the accused company is located. Help from the BBB led in part to the federal investigation and recent charges against six companies.
The one thing the scammers did manage to take was a little bit of Lucille's trust in humankind. She says she changed her routine after this incident, when it comes to answering the phone.
"I don't pick up," she says. "I figure if they want me bad enough, they'll leave a message!" And only rarely, she says, do they.
The FTC wants to hear from any potential victim of healthcare-related scams. Its hotline is 1-877-FTC-HELP and website is ftc.gov/complaint