Protecting yourself from cons in the age of COVID

Consumer Action trainers Nelson Santiago and Linda Williams brought together frontline consumer advocates for a timely webinar on “COVID-19 Scams and Healthcare Fraud.”
Published: Wednesday, August 05, 2020

A recent Consumer Action “Coping with COVID-19” webinar explained that fraud can impact your pocketbook and your health. As the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) moved to recall several brands of hand sanitizer containing toxic forms of alcohol, Consumer Action trainers Nelson Santiago and Linda Williams brought together frontline consumer advocates for a timely webinar on “COVID-19 Scams and Healthcare Fraud.”

Over 400 advocates from across the country registered to attend the online event to learn about the latest trending scams and frauds designed to exploit the vulnerable populations they serve, including seniors, disabled veterans, immigrants, victims of domestic violence, and low-income consumers.

“Unfortunately, widespread confusion and fear over the deadly coronavirus has caused many people to purchase counterfeit or dangerous products online, fall prey to healthcare scammers looking to obtain their insurance information, and much more,” said Consumer Action Community Outreach and Training Manager Linda Williams.

The webinar provided participants with the information, tools and resources to not only learn about, but also combat, the criminal activity flourishing during the pandemic, including schemes related to:

  • investments (in fake vaccines or drugs, companies selling “N95” masks, etc.);
  • charitable giving/charities (allegedly set up to “help victims”);
  • health care (especially identity theft targeting Medicare or Medicaid beneficiaries);
  • government stimulus funds (e.g., check or debit card fraud); and
  • dangerous or fake products (often sold online), such as toxic hand sanitizers or “personal protective equipment” that doesn’t act as a barrier against COVID-19.

After Williams kicked off the webinar with a warm-up quiz to help audience members assess how much they know about current scams and frauds, she introduced Micki Nozaki, the featured speaker. Nozaki is the project director for California Health Advocates’ Senior Medicare Patrol project, which helps state Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries avoid, detect and report healthcare fraud.

Nozaki outlined how scammers use confusion, uncertainty and fear around the COVID-19 pandemic to target consumers, especially vulnerable, isolated seniors. She told the audience that trends include scammers offering seniors free COVID-19 test kits in exchange for their Medicare numbers. She added that this scam wouldn’t be possible, however, without complicit healthcare providers who bill Medicare for the false claims (using COVID-19 as a diagnosis).

“While all of the scams Nozaki discussed were egregious,” Williams said, “unscrupulous providers fraudulently enrolling non-terminal, vulnerable and scared seniors into hospice care with a COVID-19 diagnosis topped my list!”

Nozaki also clarified that, despite what scammers have been telling seniors, a recent ruling made clear that Medicare covers the costs of both COVID-19 tests, to determine if someone is sick and to determine the existence of antibodies (indicating past infection)—with no out-of-pocket costs to beneficiaries. Nozaki fervently implored the audience to warn their clients, families and friends to beware of anyone who attempts to:

  • charge for COVID-19 tests,
  • claim the government requires antibody tests,
  • offer money for taking the tests, and/or
  • contact you (unsolicited) and ask for personal information (names, birth dates, Medicare or Social Security numbers, etc.)

The result of all this valuable information? Empowered participants, who gave the webinar stellar reviews for increasing their knowledge of the scams being used by criminals to exploit consumers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants also reported that they plan on sharing the information they’ve learned to empower their clients, coworkers, family members and others.

Click here to view the webinar.

For ongoing, up-to-date info on the latest scams and frauds, check out our free, monthly SCAM GRAM e-newsletter and input your email under “Join Our Email List.”

And mark your calendar for our upcoming webinars: Aug. 5, on Estate Planning for Health Care, Finances and More During a Pandemic; Sept. 9, on Tracking COVID-19 Economic Devastation; and Oct. 6, on the Impact of COVID-19 on Domestic Violence and Economic Abuse.

The COVID-19 Scams and Healthcare Fraud webinar is part of Consumer Action's COVID-19 Educational Project, made possible with major funding from Wells Fargo and additional support from AT&T, Bank of America, Capital One, Chase, and Square.




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