How can Medicare protect my Social Security number from being stolen?

May 22, 2018

Dear Consumer Ed:

I hate giving out my Social Security number, but there are times when you really do not have a choice. How can Medicare protect me when my Social Security number is on my Medicare card and I frequently have to present the card at doctors’ offices, where my card is then photocopied?

Consumer Ed says:

The Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 requires Medicare to remove the Social Security Number from all Medicare ID cards by April 2019. Medicare is spacing out the mailing of the new cards between April 2018 and April 2019, so you may receive your card at a different time than friends or neighbors. These cards will have a personalized Medicare number (called a “Medicare Beneficiary Identifier”) instead of your Social Security number. Once you receive your new Medicare card, you should start using it right away and destroy your old card.

Unfortunately, there have been reports of scammers calling consumers and posing as Medicare representatives in an attempt to get people to divulge their Social Security number and/or pay for an alleged replacement card. In one scam, the caller says your new card was lost or that someone tried to use your ID number. He/she then tells you that in order to resolve the matter you need to provide your Social Security number. In another scam, con artists claim they need payment from you in order to issue your new card and may even ask you to mail back your old Medicare card.

Here are some tips to help you recognize and avoid these scams:

  • Your new Medicare card will be sent to you automatically. As long as the address you have on file with Medicare is up-to-date, there is nothing you need to do to get your new card.
     
  • The new Medicare cards are provided free of charge.
     
  • Medicare is not calling consumers about the card switch.  If you receive an unsolicited call about your new Medicare card, in which the caller asks you to pay money, threatens to cancel your health benefits or asks you to provide your personal information, just hang up.

Until you receive your new Medicare card, you can ask your doctor or insurer to use a substitute number to identify you, rather than your Social Security number.