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For Immediate Release
October 3, 2005
Media Contact:
Kevin Enright 410-576-6357

ATTORNEY GENERAL WARNS SENIORS ABOUT MARKETING OF NEW FEDERAL PRESCRIPTION DRUG BENEFIT

Curran cautions Medicare beneficiaries to guard against scam artists and a marketing avalanche


With the launch October 1 of what promises to be a fever-pitch marketing campaign of the new federal prescription drug benefit, Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, Jr. called today for an all-out warning to seniors and others on Medicare to be extremely careful about scam artists bent on identity theft and a barrage of sales pitches that could result in people making bad decisions about this important new program.

While the new drug benefit, known as "Medicare Part D," will be of considerable help to some seniors struggling to pay for high-priced prescription drugs, Curran cautions that the marketing campaign by the 18 companies offering 67 different plans here in Maryland is also full of potential pitfalls. On his website and in booklets to be distributed to Medicare participants, Curran alerts people to two primary dangers: making the wrong decision about Medicare Part D and becoming a victim of scam artists. First, the barrage of mailings, phone calls, emails and other sales pitches will create an environment ripe for exploitation by scam artists seeking personal identification or financial information for identity theft and other fraud. Second, the marketing avalanche and staggering complexity of sorting out 67 different plans will make people feel overwhelmed and susceptible to making bad decisions which could have enormous consequences.

" Be extremely careful to protect yourself," Curran said. "When those mailings and phone calls start coming in, remember two things: some of those callers may be scam artists trying to steal from you, and even the sales people representing plans are being paid to persuade you to sign up for their plan."

First, everyone should take every precaution possible against identity theft and other scams by people pretending to be from a legitimate plan. "Before you do anything," Curran advised, "make sure you are dealing with a Medicare-approved plan. Check the company’s name, address, phone number and website by calling 1-800-MEDICARE."

Second, people must safeguard their sensitive personal information. "When telemarketers or sales representatives call or contact you, do not give out your Social Security or Medicare number, and don’t give out credit card or bank account numbers," Curran warned.

When actually enrolling in a plan, Medicare participants will have to provide Social Security and Medicare numbers. But Curran stressed that precautions are still very important. "When you’re ready to sign up, you call the plan - don’t have them call you," he said. "And even then don’t give out credit card or bank account numbers. Make the plan send you a bill."

As for dealing with legitimate Medicare Part D plan marketers, Curran emphasized how important it is for people to educate themselves. People need to decide first whether they should enroll in a Part D plan in the first place. Second, they need to learn about the differences in the drugs covered, pharmacies used, and costs imposed by the 67 plans. Plans will charge different premiums, deductibles and co-payments.

Marketing information from plans may be informative, but Curran strongly advised getting unbiased assistance from experts who are not being paid to enroll people. Curran’s own website provides basic information about how to navigate this confusing process, but also directs people to agencies, phone numbers and websites where they can get expert, unbiased help.

" Don’t be rushed or pressured," Curran urged. "Don’t necessarily enroll in the first or second plan you hear about. Take your time, and get the help you need to make the best decision for you."

Curran also urged people to call his Consumer Protection Division at 410-528-1840 if they think they have been a victim of fraud or improper sales practices. In addition, if people want to avoid telemarketing, they may register their phone number by calling 1-888-382-1222 or online at www.donotcall.gov.

More information about Medicare Part D and how to protect against scams is available at the Attorney General’s website: www.oag.state.md.us/consumer/partd.htm.

 

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