Seniors are less likely to fall for scams overall, according to the BBB Scam Tracker Risk Report (BBB.org/RiskReport). But here is one scam that’s aimed right at seniors: free medical equipment.

The Better Business Bureau is hearing from consumers — more than 200 since the first of the year — who have been targeted by scammers for “free” back braces.

HOW THE SCAM WORKS

You get a call saying you qualify for a back brace or a knee brace — totally paid for by Medicare. The scammer may pretend to be from Medicare, or they may claim to be the maker of durable medical equipment (DME). They say you qualify for the equipment for free, and they repeatedly call until you relent and allow them to submit an order to your doctor for the equipment. Or you may say no, but the company ships the brace anyway. Other times the equipment just shows up on your doorstep and Medicare receives the bill. Often consumers have a difficult time returning the unnecessary equipment.

By law, no one is allowed to make unsolicited calls to consumers about durable medical equipment. If they do, it’s Medicare fraud. And taxpayers’ foot the bill for all the unwanted products. If you get such a call, just hang up.

HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF

Refuse and report anyone offering “free” equipment, supplies, or services in exchange for your Medicare number.

Know that Medicare medical suppliers are not allowed to make unsolicited telephone calls or send emails to sell you equipment unless you’ve done business with them in the last 15 months.

Never sign a blank form from your healthcare provider or equipment supplier.

Always read your Medicare Summary Notice or Explanation of Benefits to look for any charges for equipment you do not need or did not receive.

Protect your Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security cards; keep them in a safe place (not your wallet), and only get them out when you are going to see a health care provider.

Report scams to the Medicare fraud hotline: 800-633-4227 (800-MEDICARE)

To report a scam, go to BBB.org/ScamTracker. To learn more about healthcare and Medicare scams, go to BBB.org/HealthCareScam  To learn how to protect yourself, go to “10 Steps to Avoid Scams” at https://www.bbb.org/avoidscams/.

Yuma-based Janet Torricellas is the regional director of the Better Business Bureau serving the Pacific Southwest. She can be contacted at janet.torricellas@arizonabbb.org or 928-929-7940.

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