Beware of fraudsters pretending to help you get COVID-19 tests, mining for financial information

Fraudsters are searching for victims by pretending to be offering helping South Florida residents during the pandemic, federal agents warn.

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – Fraudsters on the prowl are using the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and the demand for testing to lure the vulnerable into disclosing sensitive information.

Steve Mahmood, an assistant special agent in charge at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General, Office of Investigations, is asking the public to beware.

“Medicare beneficiaries are definitely targeted by telemarketers who push all sorts of fraud schemes,” Mahmood said.

The thieves are also impersonating contact tracers or claiming to help set up appointments for a fee. ic tests or respiratory panels to bill Medicare or other health insurance plans.

The thieves are also impersonating contact tracers or claiming to help set up appointments for a fee. Legitimate contact tracers do not need financial information or Medicare numbers to do their job. Reputable providers, especially Medicare, do not use telemarketing or text messages with hyperlinks.

“There should be no kind of incentive for filling out the request, whether some sort of cash incentive or some reward,” Mahmood said.

There has been a significant increase in the number of hotline complaints since the start of the pandemic. In the first quarter of 2021, HHS-OIG received 735 complaints related to COVID-19, but in the final quarter of 2021, there were 1,940 complaints. In total, HHS-OIG received over 5,600 complaints relating to COVID-19 nationwide in 2021.

Report COVID-19 healthcare fraud

Last year, federal prosecutors charged 14 defendants across the country for their alleged participation in various health care fraud schemes that exploited the COVID-19 pandemic and resulted in over $143 million in false billings. The defendants included telemedicine company executives, physicians, marketers, and medical business owners.

For more information or to report fraudsters, visit this page or call 1-800-447-8477.

About the Author:

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."