Watch Your Purse: Avoiding Diabetes Con-Artists and Health Scams

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When something sounds too good to be true…it probably is! Here are some tips for protecting yourself from diabetes scams.

If you want to make a buck on the wrong side of the law, set your sights on older people with diabetes. Older people are prime targets for scams. The Wall Street Journal reported last December that one in every five Americans age 65 and older has been abused financially. Since one in four older Americans has diabetes, many of those targeted are people with diabetes. Losing money that you have set aside for health care expenses can lead to both financial ruin and poor health outcomes. As the number of people with diabetes continues to climb, so does the potential for scam artists to make a buck.

Maria Koen, N.P., Nurse Practitioner at Joslin Diabetes Center advises her patients to be careful of things that look too good to be true. “I work with many older patients and it dismays me how often they taken in,” says Koen.

There are various types of scams perpetrated on people with diabetes that are popular with con men. The first involves getting something for free. Callers pretending to be from Medicare, the government or a diabetes association will offer you free supplies such as test strips or diabetes foot care products in exchange for your financial information. They may ask you for your Medicare number for example. One pitch will be that they need this information to verify your eligibility for the free products.

You may also receive items in the mail you did not order and scammers will call looking for your Medicare information so they can bill Medicare. But as the old adage says, “Nothing in life is free.” The con men are using your information to bilk Medicare. In addition, once you have given away your Medicare information you are at risk for being the target of additional scams. *

In a second type of scheme you may be asked to pay a little money upfront to get something of great value, such as a motorized wheelchair for “free” or at a greatly reduced cost. But your initial payment doesn’t get you the wheelchair. Instead a series of difficulties arise that require you to pay additional fees. Over time you are enticed to send more and more money for something that never arrives.

Another type of fraud involves the selling of bogus products claiming to treat diabetes. Many of these products bear advertisements indicating that they can treat blood sugar naturally or can eliminate your diabetes. In July of 2013 the Food and Drug administration sent 15 companies warning letters about selling products with harmful ingredients. The companies have to reply to the FDA with their plan for corrective action or face fines or criminal prosecution. But the FDA can only do so much. The FDA is understaffed and far more fly-by-night companies pop up than the FDA can shut down.

Click here for a list of the diabetes products and companies the FDA has cited, and learn more about diabetes and other health frauds.  

Using common sense and being a savvy consumer is your best defense against fraud. Remember if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Diabetes is a serious disease with sometimes painful and scary complications. The treatments for diabetes can also be expensive and people are understandably desperate to find a cure. The reality is that diabetes can be controlled with appropriate diet, exercise and medication, but silver bullets just don’t exist yet.

Things to do & not to do:

  1. Never give out financial information over the telephone unless you have initiated the call. Government agencies, Medicare and legitimate diabetes organization do not ask for your financial information over the telephone without you initiating the call.
  2. Report fishy calls to the Office of Inspector General OIG Hotline at 1-800-HHS-TIPS or online at http://oig.hhs.gov/fraud/report-fraud. Be sure to include the company’s name, telephone number, and address if you know it and a summary of your conversation with the caller.
  3. Check your Medicare Summary Notice and other medical bills to make sure you weren’t billed for things you didn’t order or billed multiple times for the same item.
  4. Do not accept things you haven’t ordered. If you haven’t opened the item you can refuse delivery or return the item to the sender without paying additional postage or delivery fees.
  5. Check out any supplements you are considering taking at the Office of Dietary Supplements and inform your health care provider before taking a supplement. Look for the US Pharmacopeia, or Consumer Labs seal on supplements you do buy. This will assure you that what is in the bottle matches what is on the label.

*Massachusetts and other states have consumer protection laws: If you did not order an item that you receive from a vendor you are entitled to keep it at no cost.

Visit us online to learn more about the Adult Clinic at Joslin Diabetes Center.

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