Thursday, March 22, 2018

Medical Identity Theft

Scammers never rest. Even when the government and financial institutions take added measures for protecting consumers against fraud, scammers are dreaming up new ways to con you out of your money – and your identity. 
 
In the latest wave of identity theft, scammers are cashing in on Medicare’s extra level of protection. In order to help prevent ID theft, Medicare is replacing the Social Security numbers that had appeared on its old cards with an 11-digit code. The new cards aren’t in circulation yet. They will be mailed out within the next 13 months, but scammers are already using them for a new variation of identity theft. 
 
Here’s how the scam works: A caller pretending to be a Medicare representative will phone a beneficiary and ask for payment in exchange for the new ID. The victim willingly complies. In reality, though, the new cards are free and are being mailed out automatically. The caller might also claim to be a Medicare representative who is not after the victim’s money but needs their medical information to send out their new card or to update their system. 
 
In another iteration of this scam, a caller will ask a victim if they want to purchase Medicare’s prescription drug coverage, or Part D. Part D is voluntary and is not necessary for Medicare coverage, but the caller will insist the victim must purchase Part D or risk losing their entire coverage. 
In another ruse that is not limited to Medicare members, the caller will ask for the victim’s checking account number and Social Security number to deposit a supposed refund from their medical insurance company. 
 
Once the scammer has the victim’s medical information, though, there’s an endless amount of damage they can do, including (but not limited to): 
  • Posing as the victim to see a doctor and using their insurance to pay the bill,
  • Obtaining prescriptions they don’t need and then selling them or misusing them,
  • Purchasing medical equipment,
  • Filing a false health claim.
Protect yourself from being the next victim! Here’s what you need to know about medical identity theft. 
 
What it can cost you
 
According to the Ponemon Institute, the average medical identity theft costs the victim a whopping $13,500 to fix. But it’s a lot more than money at stake. There are several significant ways medical identity theft can affect you. 
 
1.) Loss of health coverage 
Medical identity theft can cause you to lose your health coverage. Scammers might max out your benefit limits, leaving you at a real disadvantage in case of a medical emergency. 
 
2.) Ruined credit history 
Medical identity theft can wreak havoc on your credit history. You may have spent years building and maintaining an excellent score, but scammers can bring all of that tumbling down by racking up tremendous hospital bills in your name and then disappearing. The outstanding bill will then go to collections and you might not even be aware of it until creditors come calling. 
 
3.) False medical records 
The scammer may be seeing doctors, receiving treatment and obtaining prescriptions under your name. All of this will be documented on your medical records. This can prove to be extremely dangerous, or even fatal, when you seek medical attention in the future. 
 
4.) Higher premiums 
When insurance companies take note of the maladies you’ve “contracted” or the many doctors you’ve been “seeing,” your premiums will likely rise. 
 
Preventing medical scams 
 
Learn to recognize the signs and take proactive steps to ensure that you’re not the next victim of medical identity theft. 
  • Know that Medicare will never call you for information. The agency will always reach out to its members via mail. By simply being aware of this fact, you can immediately identify a scammer on the phone.
  • Be wary of bills from third-party providers. If you receive notices regarding your medical information from a third-party provider that do not look familiar, or that contain inaccurate information regarding your medical history and recent treatment, alert your insurance provider immediately.
  • Study your Explanation of Benefits (EOB). Every health insurance company provides its members will an EOB.  Be sure to take a hard look at yours. If you spot any treatments you don’t remember receiving, notify your insurance provider immediately.
  • Check medical records. It’s a good idea to review your medical records on a regular basis and check for any suspicious doctor visits, prescriptions or maladies.
  • Review your credit. It’s always prudent to check your credit history several times a year. If you see any unfamiliar charges, immediately ask for a fraud alert and place a freeze on your credit.
Fixing your medical history 
 
If you spot something suspicious on your medical records, it’s crucial that you take the necessary steps to correct it so it doesn’t affect your medical treatment in the future. 
 
Send a copy of the documents detailing the discrepancy or error to every medical professional and facility involved in your care, including doctors, hospitals, labs and private clinics. It’s best to send a copy of these documents and keep the original documents for your own records. To ensure the documents were received by the correct parties, send them through certified mail and get a receipt. 

Fighting back
 
Have you been victimized by medical identity theft? Report the incident to prevent future scams! 
You can report your scam on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website at ftc.gov, or by calling the agency at 1-877-438-4338. 
 
If you are a member of Medicare and suspect fraud, call 800-MEDICARE for assistance or visit Medicare.gov. Alternately, report the scam to your own insurance provider. 
 
You deserve to live out your years in health and happiness without worrying about medical identity theft. Make sure you take the necessary precautions to ensure you’re not the next victim! 
 
Your Turn:  Have you had to repair damages caused by medical identity theft? Share your experience with us in the comments! 

Monday, March 12, 2018

How To Use The Money Envelope System


If you’re like many of us, you’ve been trying to stick to a budget for a while, but by the time each month is over, you’ve busted your budget – again.
Because of this recurring pattern, you’re probably wondering if there’s a better way. Fortunately, the answer is yes!

The money envelope system has been around for years, and it’s an incredibly motivating and powerful way to keep spending in check.
 
CORE Credit Union is proud to bring you this handy guide to understanding and implementing the money envelope system in your household.

Note: If you already have a workable monthly budget, you can skip to step 2.

1. Determine your monthly income and expenses

For the next few months, track all of your expenses. Hold onto every receipt or record each purchase you make, being sure to indicate which category of expense it falls under. Hold onto every pay stub, too. When a three-month period has passed, you’ll sit down to figure out exactly how much discretionary income you’re left with each month. This will not include fixed amounts, like insurance premiums, mortgage payments, savings and investments.

2. Create a budget for every expense category

Now, divide your discretionary income into different categories. The categories you need and the amounts you’ll set aside for each will depend on your individual lifestyle and habits, but you’ll likely need categories for food, gas, entertainment, transportation and clothing costs.
Review the way you’ve been spending your money in the last few months for an idea of how much you’ll need to set aside for each category. If you see you’ve been overspending in a certain area, this is a great time to resolve to cut back.

3. Create your envelopes

This is where the money envelope system differs from a regular budget. Instead of having money set aside for each category in your head, or even scribbled on a paper somewhere, take one envelope for each expense category and mark it clearly. Now, put the exact amount of cash for this month in the envelope for each category.

Do this with every expense category, and voila! You’ve created your new budgeting system!
4. Stick to your budget

As in any budget, following through on a plan is the hardest part. With the envelope system though, it’s a whole lot easier.

Say you need to make a grocery run. You’ll peek inside your “groceries” envelope, take note of how much cash is inside, and figure out how much you can afford to spend. Take that amount of money to the store with you, and only use that cash. No cheating! There’s absolutely no card-swiping allowed and no sneaking money from another envelope to beef up a skimpy cash supply in another. You need to work with what you have.

Instead of walking out of the store with a dozen items in hand that weren’t on your list, you’ll be forced to stick to your budget. And, if you find yourself running low on grocery money one month, you’ll have to make do. You can take the pantry challenge and dream up a menu created around the ingredients you have on hand, or you can shop the sales and cook according to what’s cheapest this week.

Do whatever it takes – but no cheating!

5. Reward yourself!

If you find yourself with extra money in any category at the end of the month, it’s OK to celebrate. Dave Ramsey recommends rewarding yourself with a dinner out or an expensive drink. Alternatively, you can treat that money as “rollover cash” and use it to enjoy a roomier budget next month.
Tips and tricks

 Here are some variations and different approaches to this ingenious system:

  • Use a small accordion file folder instead of individual envelopes. It’ll be easier to keep track of your envelopes when they’re all in one place, and it’s sturdier than paper envelopes.
  • Go cashless! Love the idea but hate the thought of only using cash? You can still use the envelope system with some minor adjustments. There are apps designed to create virtual envelopes for you to use, such as Mvelopes. You can also use a cost-free budgeting app that allows you to divide and track your spending into different categories, such as Mint, Quicken and Monefy.
  • Trim your fixed expenses. If you’re finding it difficult to stick to your self-created budget, try to cut back on your non-discretionary spending. Search for a cheaper auto insurance plan. Ditch your cable. Find ways to trim your electric bill and gas expenses. Use the money you save to add to the envelopes that never seem to have enough to get you through the month.
  • Create an emergency envelope. Set aside $20 or $50 to use in case another envelope runs out of money.
Congratulations! You’ve got the money envelope system down pat! Here’s hoping it helps you on your journey toward financial wellness.
 
Your Turn: Have you tried the money envelope system? Has it worked for you? Why, or why not?