The details of the U.S. Justice Department’s takedown of the $1.2 billion “knee brace” scam makes me livid. It is just one more indicator of con artists’ ruthlessness while they prey on the vulnerabilities of humanity. What’s worse is that this time the fraudsters were capitalizing on the heavy-handedness of a federal program to help them operate with impunity.
I have received countless calls over the past year offering me “a free medical-grade knee brace.” And every time, I’ve hung up within seconds of answering the phone.
And it’s not because I’m young, spry and don’t know knee pain. I played football for a decade, tore muscle around my knee, and have worked on my feet for almost 20 years. I know knee pain.
That’s not why I always hung up the phone as soon as somebody offered me a “free” knee brace. I always hung up the phone because I know that nobody should ever be calling me to sell me anything. It’s really that simple.
I know how telemarketing works, but in my entire life, I’ve never bought anything because somebody called me at random and sold me a product. I probably never will.
The Associated Press reported Tuesday that the Justice Department charged two dozen people, including doctors, for their part in selling orthopedic braces to senior citizens via foreign call centers. One hundred and thirty medical equipment companies were implicated and more than $900 million was paid out by Medicare.
This news was infuriating. Not only are the thieves tricking seniors into giving out their personal information, they’re defrauding the government and its socially-beneficial programming that was designed to aid and assist the elderly with medical care.
I started to get those knee brace calls last year and I’m always skeptical when it comes to telemarketing. I have to admit that initially I hoped there was some shred of legitimacy to those offers.
Last winter, while I was in line to buy gasoline at a convenience store in Eastover, I overheard a customer telling the cashier that her aunt was recently scammed. She said that the scammers billed her aunt’s Medicare several separate times for the braces.
Brace yourselves; I’m angry for not writing this column sooner. I may have been able to warn some people about those tricky phone calls.
In my opinion, there’s never a good reason to give out personal information over the phone to somebody you don’t know. Pretty much every financial, medical, legal or insurance company will tell you – in plain English – that they will not ever ask for personally identifying, private information over the phone.
When you call the bank they might ask for some identifying information to make sure you are who you say you are. But, how often does your bank call you and ask for personal data? In my experience –– almost never.
When you get phone calls offering things that seem to be too good to be true ask for that offer in writing, and if you suspect a scam, tell the caller that you want to be placed on a “do not call list” and block that phone number.
And, If you’re able to, report the call to the proper authorities. This way those criminals might get to feel what it’s like to have a knee like mine ... when they get locked up.
Shaun Savarese is a former reporter with The Daily Record.