In an effort to prevent senior citizens from being victims of identity theft, Congress passed a law in 2015 requiring the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to remove Social Security numbers from Medicare cards by April 2019. The federal government has already begun the process of implementing this law to meet the deadline. The Social Security number has been replaced with an 11-digit identification number. As of April 2018, new enrollees to Medicare are receiving this updated card. The federal government began replacing the cards of current beneficiaries in May of this year, which will take a year to complete.

Medicare recipients can learn more about the phased-in timing for receipt of their cards at Medicare.gov/New Card. When the new card arrives depends upon the part of the country in which the recipient lives. Based upon a schedule put out by the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the first phase includes enrollees from Washington D.C., Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Next are those living in California, Hawaii, Alaska, Oregon, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. All others will receive their new cards after June 2018 but before April 2019.

There is no charge for the new cards; they are absolutely free. The redundancy in the prior sentence is for emphasis because, according to multiple sources, scammers claiming to be Medicare representatives are calling and demanding a processing fee for the new cards. (See AARP Bulletin, “Many Confused Over New Medicare Cards, June 2018,page 6). These cons often request a credit card number in order to process the fee.

Another scam involves seeks identification information, including Social Security number, as necessary in connection with receipt of the card. Medicare does not need identification verification from the beneficiary because the agency obviously already has that information.

The AARP Bulletin referenced above reports that one scheme is to inform Medicare beneficiaries that they are entitled to a refund based on transactions involving the old card. Then the caller seeks bank account information in order to deposit the refund. According to the article, there are no refunds involved with the replacement of the Medicare cards and Medicare will never seek bank account information.

All Medicare recipients are urged to remain alert to avoid being scammed. Medicare anticipates that, in addition to the initial scams already circulating, more will be coming down the pike. Seniors should refrain from responding to phone calls, email, text messages or any other form of communication requesting personal information associated with the receipt of these new cards. Any person so contacted should immediately report the scam to the federal government at 1-800-MEDICARE.

Sandra W. Reed is an attorney with Katten & Benson, an Elder Law firm in Fort Worth. She lives in beautiful Somervell County, near Chalk Mountain.