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Seniors take aim at medical identity thieves

Identity thieves, beware: seniors aren't easy targets anymore. They have been forewarned and forearmed.

According to an Oct. 28, 2009 Older Americans report, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice recently released new tips and information to help seniors and Medicare beneficiaries deter, detect, and defend against medical identity theft.

Medical identity theft occurs when someone steals a patient's personal information, such as his or her name and Medicare number, and uses the information to obtain medical care, to buy drugs or supplies, or to fraudulently bill Medicare using the patient's stolen identity.

"When criminals steal from Medicare they are stealing from all of us. Preventing medical identity theft is an important part of our work to stop Medicare fraud, and these tools will give seniors important information about how to deter, detect and defend against ID theft and fraud," HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius stated in a press release.

The released materials include practical steps against medical identity theft. Beneficiaries are reminded to beware of offers of free medical equipment, services, or goods in exchange for their Medicare numbers. Beneficiaries are also encouraged to regularly review their Medicare Summary Notices, Explanation of Benefits statements, and medical bills for suspicious charges and to report suspected problems.

"This administration is committed to guarding Medicare against fraud and abuse. We will continue to protect the integrity of the nation's public health programs and vigorously pursue those who seek to take advantage of our most vulnerable citizens," said assistant attorney general Tony West.

"OIG's special agents frequently uncover fraud schemes that involve the sale and use of stolen Medicare identification numbers. We're cracking down on these schemes and working to help stop medical identity theft before it happens," said HHS inspector general Daniel R. Levison.

The new tips and a printable brochure, produced by the HHS Office of the Inspector General are now available at www.stopmedicarefraud.gov and www.oig.hhs.gov/fraud/ idtheft.

The Senior Connection is a column provided by the Clinton County Office for the Aging. For more information about services for senior citizens, contact their office at 135 Margaret St., Suite 105, Plattsburgh or call them at 565-4620. Information is also periodically provided by the Behavioral Health Services North Caregiver Resource Center. They may be reached at 565-4543 or 565-4625.

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