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Watch Out for Health Reform Fraud

We've all heard about the Affordable Care Act (ACA), known as Obamacare, and its role in the recent government shut down. Are you aware of the consumer fraud associated with it?

Enrollment for the national health-insurance program has authorities bracing for what could be the biggest wave of Internet and telephone fraud attempts in years.

Criminals are using Obamacare to trick consumers into divulging personal information and to market fake insurance plans by phone, fax, e-mail and especially fake websites, the National Consumers League says on its website.

The Federal Trade Commission received 1,100 complaints in May about telephone scammers claiming to represent the Medicare program or Obamacare and demanding personal information.

Experts say the combination of a limited enrollment period and the confusion of many Americans about the process creates easy targets for criminals with realistic-looking websites and believable dialogue.

Consumers are warned of "sham navigators" — people pretending to have government approval to help people choose insurance plans. Many will try to attract people by using spam-type e-mails claiming to be from the government.

Here is what you can do to protect yourself:

Protect Yourself from Consumer Fraud

  • Study the Affordable Care Act program and how it affects you by using sites such asHealthCare.gov. Knowledge will help you spot a scam.
  • Conduct business with people you trust. Use your existing insurance or benefits adviser. Even if he or she can't help you, they can refer you to a legitimate provider.
  • Use ".gov" websites as sources of links to other sites.
  • Verify that an agent or navigator is legitimate before giving personal information.
  • Do not trust your caller ID as a means of verification. Scammers have devices that can display false identification on caller ID.
  • If someone tries to scam you, notify the Federal Trade Commission or Fraud.org. If you think you've been scammed, notify your bank, credit card companies and major credit bureaus.

Consumer Fraud: What Not To Do

  • Do not pay someone claiming to be a "navigator." A navigator is a person or agency that is a member of social service organization or advocacy group who help people use the health insurance exchanges created by the law. Navigators must be certified. They aren't allowed to charge for their services.
  • Never share personal information by telephone. The government, and legitimate businesses, won't call you and ask for your bank account number, Social Security number, or your birth date.
  • Crooks create websites that look similar to the real ones. Check the address of the site you're on before entering personal information or clicking links. Run your mouse pointer over the link - does the address that displays match the one you was given?
  • Federal and state agencies rarely handle financial transactions on the phone.
  • If a caller threatens you with jail time, don't believe it. Scammers have claimed that consumers will go to jail if they don't buy insurance cards. The ACA individual mandate does not state consumers will receive jail sentences.

All 50 states have enacted laws intended to protect consumers from telemarketing scams and other schemes.

It is difficult for a consumer to know whether the party on a phone call or Internet website is legitimate. Even when a company is legitimate, some take advantage of their size and the consumer's lack of knowledge and attempt to get excessive profits from consumers in violation of the law.

The Tennessee Consumer Protection Actprovides that any person who suffers an ascertainable loss of money or property as a result of unfair or deceptive trade practices may recover actual damages in a court of law. This act states that fraudulent misrepresentation, deception, and unfair competition in the course of conducting a deal for anything of value are prohibited.

Courts may award monetary damages or grant injunctive relief. If a court finds the use of unfair or deceptive practices was willful, deceptive or unfair, the court may award triple damages and attorneys' fees.

If you have been the victim of consumer fraud, contact aTennessee consumer fraud attorney for a knowledgeable evaluation of your case.

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