Live 5 Scambusters: Medical brace scam targets Medicare recipients

VIDEO - Live 5 Scambusters: Medical brace scam targets Medicare recipients

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Scam artists are still using medical braces to defraud Medicare.

The Department of Justice announced a massive investigation into a healthcare scam in April, but the Federal Trade Commission put out a new warning this week. The scam involving free or low-cost knee and back braces is still around.

The FTC says scammers will contact Medicare recipients and convince them they are qualified for these braces, whether they need them or not. If a Medicare recipient gives the caller their information, the scammer can use it to order the medical equipment and bill Medicare.

“If someone’s calling you to offer a diagnosis or to offer something free we’re going to hear from our clients and that’s when we’re going to look into it,” Christopher Westfall said.

Westfall is a Medicare specialist with the Seniors Savings Network based in North Charleston. He says these calls are an unintended consequence of the growth in telemedicine.

“They’re calling seniors to say ‘Hey, we’ve got this new opportunity,’” Westfall said.

The Department of Justice announced Operation Brace Yourself in April. According to the DOJ investigation, these callers get Medicare recipients’ numbers, transfer the seniors to telemedicine companies to get a phony diagnosis for orthopedic braces, then bill Medicare. The callers and medical companies get kickbacks in return.

A total of 24 people have been charged with $1.2 billion in fraud as part of Operation Brace Yourself. Andrew Chmiel of Mount Pleasant is charged in connection to more than a dozen companies listed in the indictment. Chmiel has pleaded not guilty to his alleged involvement in a $200 million scheme.

In September, the Department of Justice announced a similar fraud investigation called Operation Double Helix. Nineteen people have been charged with using genetic testing to defraud Medicare in a similar fashion.

“Someone’s paying for it,” Westfall said. “It’s either the taxpayers or maybe it’s their neighbor down the street that may not get something, or the Medicare Trust Fund may run out of money sooner than it otherwise would have because of billions in fraud like this.”

You can find out more about Medicare fraud and how to protect yourself here. You can always report this scam or any others at ftc.gov/complaint.

If you have a scam story to share, email Kyle Jordan at Scams@live5news.com.

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