Wisconsin consumer advocates warn of health care fraud

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Associated Press | September 17, 2013

GREEN BAY — Enrollment begins for a national health insurance program in two weeks, and Wisconsin officials are already bracing for what could be an unprecedented wave of fraud attempts.

The National Consumers League says criminals across the nation have already begun using confusion over the Affordable Care Act to pressure consumers into divulging personal information, the Press-Gazette Media reported.

Consumer-rights officials say they haven't heard of problems in Wisconsin yet, but they're getting the word out now so people can be vigilant.

"We know it's coming our way," said Susan Bach, the director for the Better Business Bureau of Wisconsin's northeastern region. "It's only a matter of time."

The Federal Trade Commission received 1,100 complaints in May about telephone scammers claiming to represent the Medicare program and demanded personal information. Many cited the health reform law as the reason for the call.

Americans can start signing up for health insurance programs on Oct. 1, and coverage will begin Jan. 1 for those who sign up by Dec. 15. Experts say scammers are taking advantage of the looming deadline as well as confusion over how the new system will work.

To help people understand the changes and choose insurance plans, the government is training "navigators." But that could create another opening for scammers — impersonating legitimate navigators.

"There are definitely some potential issues," said J.P. Wieske, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Office of the Commissioner of Insurance.

Phone scams have been around for a while, but a relatively new development is the use of increasingly realistic websites to trick people into divulging credit card numbers or bank account numbers.

Scammers who create these websites generally follow one of two approaches — they either copy a legitimate website or make their own professional-looking business, said Gaurav Bansal, a professor of management information systems at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. Often, they'll try to attract people by using spam-type emails claiming to be from the government.

"Fake websites 10 years ago were not as sophisticated as they are today," Bansal said. "Whether you are young or old, it's very easy to get fooled."

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