Welcome to the Department of Justice, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller

For immediate release - Friday, April 23, 2004.

Contact Bob Brammer - 515-281-6699.

Miller: Beware of Rx Drug Card Scams

Attorney General warns seniors that con-artists may try to take advantage of the new Medicare Prescription Drug Discount Card program.

Cedar Rapids.   Attorney General Tom Miller cautioned older Iowans today that con-artists are likely to try to use confusion about the new Medicare Prescription Drug Discount Card program to trick people into giving out their bank account and credit card numbers or other personal information, or to sell them cards that don't reduce their prescription drug costs.

"This is a program that Medicare beneficiaries should look into," Miller said. "But they also need to beware of identity thieves. We've heard of reports in about fifteen states of people being tricked into giving out their bank routing codes or Social Security numbers to people calling or stopping at their door supposedly to enroll them for the Medicare discount cards. Some apparently even posed as Medicare officials," Miller said at a news conference in Cedar Rapids.

Miller emphasized that authentic information from Medicare will come in the mail, not from telemarketers or someone selling door-to-door. But even mail should be studied, Miller said. He showed an official-looking mail solicitation from a group called "Senior Security Prescription Plan." "At first blush, this looks an awful lot like an official government seal on the mailing," Miller said. "It looks like it's from Social Security and is a Medicare-approved card, even though it contains a small-print disclaimer that it's not related to any government agency." Miller said the solicitation -- which asks for the person's credit card number -- was provided to his office by a concerned Iowan.

So far, Miller said, his office has not heard of victims of such schemes, but victims of identity theft often don't realize it for some time, he noted.

"We don't want to discourage Iowans from looking into Medicare-approved prescription drug discount cards," Miller said. "We just want to alert them to be careful and be sure they are getting a card that's useful to them - and not giving out their personal financial information to con-artists."

Miller urged Iowans to contact Iowa's "SHIIP" or Senior Health Insurance Information Program to check if a card is Medicare-approved - and to get free, one-to-one consultation on what card might work best for them. "You can only get one Medicare-approved card. SHIIP can help you decide which one has the best prices for the drugs you use, and the best choice of pharmacies." SHIIP is a program of the Iowa Insurance Div. with trained volunteer counselors around the state.

Iowans may call SHIIP toll-free at 1-800-351-4664, or go to www.shiip.state.ia.us. The TTY number is 1-800-735-2942. People also can go to www.medicare.gov or call 1-800-MEDICARE.

The Medicare-approved Prescription Drug Discount Cards can be obtained starting May 3, and can be used starting in June. They are completely voluntary and cost no more than $30. Medicare officials have estimated that people may save 10% to 15% on their total drug costs, and Medicare has approved around 30 "sponsors" to provide the Medicare-approved discount cards. (The program also can provide a credit up to $600 per year for low-income persons whose 2004 income is under $12,569 single, or $16,862 married.)

Miller summarized tips for getting the best card and avoiding possible scams:

  • DO contact SHIIP and "shop" for the card with the best prices for the drugs you use, and the best choice of pharmacies. SHIIP counselors will help people work through choices.
  • DO ask your local pharmacy for help, and be sure it accepts a card before you sign up.
  • DON'T give out your bank account number, credit card number, Social Security number, or Medicare number - especially if someone calls you on the phone or stops at your door.
  • DON'T pay large sums in advance (the maximum cost for a card is $30.)
  • DO report it if you think you've been cheated or approached by a deceptive program. Go to www.IowaAttorneyGeneral.org or call the Consumer Protection Division at 515-281-5926.

Miller was joined at the Cedar Rapids news conference by local officials including Linn County Sheriff Don Zeller and other law enforcement leaders; Liz Selk, Director of Heritage Area Agency on Aging; Linda Dearinger of Heritage AAA; Nevin Meredith, Chair of the Linn County Triad, and Pat Marshall, Vice Chair; Linda Hildreth, Dept. of Elder Affairs, who staffs the statewide Triad Coalition; Asst. Attorney General Debbie Neumeyer; and others.

The officials were taking part in an all-day conference called "Financial Crimes Against the Elderly: A Growing Problem."

"I congratulate these officials on tackling the very troubling problem of crimes and consumer frauds perpetrated against older Iowans," Miller said. "Many older Iowans are vulnerable, and they are targeted by con-artists for several reasons. They may be more trusting than others, and they often can be reached by someone calling them at home or knocking at their door. Iowa has a high proportion of citizens over age 85, 75 and 65. We have to work together to fight back against scams and crimes designed to cheat them," Miller said.

The conference brought together law enforcement officials, service providers, advocates for older Iowans, employees of banks and credit unions, senior citizens, and others.

"I am highly offended by schemes that try to cheat older Iowans," Miller said. "I am just as highly pleased to see the outstanding efforts of Linn County Triad, Johnson County Triad, and all the people who have come together to fight back against schemes that hurt our older citizens."

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Links for more information:

Click here for the Attorney General's one-page "Consumer Advisory" bulletin on prescription drug discount cards.

Click here to go to SHIIP - Iowa's Senior Health Insurance Information Program operated by the State of Iowa Insurance Division: www.shiip.state.ia.us. (Click on "drug assistance.") Very good general information about the program. And contact SHIIP to connect with trained volunteer counselors around the state who can give one-on-one assistance to help determine which card makes the most sense for individuals.

Go the U.S. Medicare web site for all kinds of information: www.medicare.gov .

Includes information on what Medicare-approved drug discount cards are available to you, and publications on "Introducing Medicare-Approved Drug Discount Cards," "Guide to Choosing a Medicare-Approved Drug Discount Card," and "Medicare-Approved Drug Discount Card Tip Sheet."

Click here to reach AARP's web site on the Prescription Drug Discount Cards: www.aarp.org

Go to www.medicarerights.org for the nonprofit Medicare Rights Center information about prescription drug discount cards (including information in Spanish.)

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