Scammers have billed Medicare $1.7 billion in phony invoices for selling hundreds of thousands of us pieces of medical equipment we don’t need. Federal agencies have brought charges for peddling unnecessary braces for knee, wrist, shoulder and back.

How did this happen? We answered TV and radio ads aimed at Medicare beneficiaries. By calling them for more information, we were offered “free” devices we didn’t need.

Per the Department of Justice news release, medical doctors were bribed into prescribing the devices to patients they had never even met or those they’d only talked to via brief phone conversations.

Once we gave them our Medicare numbers and personal information, our calls would be switched to a foreign call center, and they were then able to bill Medicare. It was a complicated scam, involving doctors, company executives, call centers, 130 companies, bribery, kickbacks and more.

Scary, isn’t it?

If you see an ad on TV about free medical equipment you can get because you’re on Medicare, write down the information and give it to your doctor. Ask whether that device or service is something you really need.

If it is, and if it’s something approved by Medicare, you can still get it for free. In fact, whether it’s for free medical equipment, or insurance coverage, or for any reason, if it’s related to Medicare, all the scammers really want is your Medicare number.

In other Medicare scams, they’ll call you and say they need to update your information, including your bank account number where your Social Security is deposited.

Whether they use sympathy, offers of help or aggressive tactics — don’t let it fool you. Hang up.

Remember, once the scammers have your Medicare card number, they can use it again and again.

© 2019 King Features Synd., Inc.

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