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WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 15, 2007
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Health plan or scam?
Callers targeting Medicare recipients

By Seth Burkett
sburkett@decaturdaily.com · 340-2355

PRICEVILLE — Ronda Bell said she didn’t fall for the outrageously cheap health insurance offered during a fishy phone call Monday.

“As soon as he said $25 for dental, vision and medical, I was like, ‘What?’ That wouldn’t even cover vision,” Bell said.

The number that showed up on Bell’s caller ID came from Grand Rapids, Mich.

Bell said the telemarketer hadn’t even given his name or a company name before he asked for a checking account number.

“I was like, ‘I’m not going to give you my checking account number.’ He says, ‘Well I guess you aren’t going to get no insurance,’ ” she said.

Bell said she feels sure the caller was a scam artist, and she worries that others, especially those without insurance, could be taken in.

Regional Vice President Tricia Pruitt said the Better Business Bureau has received a number of complaints about health plans sold by telemarketers.

Generally, Pruitt said, callers are selling medical discount plans, which are different from insurance plans.

“People hear ‘health plan,’ and they think ‘health insurance,’ ” she said.

“Some of them make some lofty claims about what they’re going to do, and then we get complaints when they don’t do that.”

Pruitt said many complaints are from people confused by the variety of Medicare options and duped by unscrupulous salesmen.

Some telemarketers claim their plans “replace Medicare and they lure people with dental and vision because Medicare doesn’t cover that,” Pruitt said. “What the customer doesn’t always understand is that there are a very limited number of people you have to use. We’ve had people sign up for things without remotely knowing what they’re getting into.”

The consequences of giving your bank account number to telemarketers can range from irritating to harrowing, Pruitt said.

“Even if they work for a legitimate company, I get calls all the time where people find out about hidden fees and all this other stuff. They might take debits from their account, and the only way to stop it is to close the account,” Pruitt said.

“If it’s just somebody who’s trying to steal your bank account number, then there’s no telling what they’ll do with it,” she said.

Pruitt said the behavior of Bell’s caller sounded suspicious, but without more information, it’s hard to determine whether he was selling insurance, selling another product, or just trying to steal her account number.

According to the Federal Trade Commission’s Web site, www.ftc.gov, people who sign up for medical discount plans generally pay for a list of health care providers “who may be willing to offer ‘discounts’ on some of their products, services and procedures” to plan members.

“The FTC and many states have found that although some medical discount plans provide legitimate discounts that benefit their members, many take consumers’ money and offer very little in return,” the site states.

Seniors confused about Medicare options should visit the North-central Alabama Regional Council of Governments for help in weighing their options, Pruitt said. NARCOG provides Medicare recipients with printouts of plans suited to their needs.

“Never sign up for anything over the phone,” Pruitt said. “High-pressure tactics are a warning sign. I would never agree to something without getting something in writing first.”

Pruitt said all telemarketers are required by law to respect the Do Not Call Registry. If you’re on the list, you won’t receive legally made calls from legitimate companies.

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