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Don’t Get Burned by “Pain Relief” Cream Sellers

It may seem like it’s your lucky day. Someone calls (or you receive a robocall) to tell you there’s an available prescription pain relief cream that will relieve you of any joint or back pain. And, better yet, it won’t cost you anything (or at least no more than your standard co-pay/deductible) because your insurance provider will pay for it. All you need to do is provide some information, which may include your doctor’s name, insurance information and birth date. Or perhaps the caller already has that information. All you need to do is approve it, and the caller will take it from there—he or she will contact your doctor, submit a claim, and ship you the cream.

What’s not to like?

Plenty. These kinds of solicitations may be schemes to overcharge your insurer, and some may even be attempts at stealing your personal information, such as your Social Security number or birth date.

The result may be that you receive a product that doesn’t work as claimed. You may have to pay out-of-pocket expenses, such as co-pays or deductibles, or the entire cost of the product if your insurer refuses to pay the cost. And the some of these products can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

Tips for Consumers

  • Be wary of anyone who calls to offer you “free” medications, medical equipment or medical services. These types of solicitations are often associated with health care fraud schemes, and some calls may be identity theft attempts. If you receive such a call, hang up. If it’s a robocall, hang up without pressing any numbers.
  • Do not provide personal information to someone who calls, especially your Social Security number or Medicare number. (Medicare is mailing new Medicare cards between April 2018 and April 2019 with new and unique Medicare ID numbers. Medicare will no longer use Social Security numbers). If you are doing business with a health care provider, it should already have your personal information.
  • If you have questions about whether your insurance provider covers a certain medication or medical equipment, or health care services, call your insurer using the number listed on your insurance card or on a billing statement.
  • If you have questions about whether a certain medication is effective for your condition, ask a trusted medical professional such as your doctor or pharmacist. Don’t allow a doctor you’ve never met to prescribe over the phone.
  • Review insurance and Medicare statements. Make sure there are no suspicious charges. If you see something unusual, report it. If it’s an insurance company, call your insurer. If it’s Medicare, call 800-MEDICARE (800-633-4227) or file a complaint at https://oig.hhs.gov/fraud/report-fraud.
  • If you believe you have been victimized by an identity theft scam, report it to law enforcement and the three major credit reporting agencies.
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