Possible fraud by con artists taking advantage of the new insurance marketplaces

WASHINGTON — Federal officials warned consumers on Wednesday to beware of con artists taking advantage of the new insurance marketplaces being set up nationwide.

There have been reports of fraud, high-pressure sales tactics and efforts to obtain personal information from consumers before the opening of the online markets known as insurance exchanges.

White House officials say consumers should be suspicious of anyone asking them for money to enroll in a health plan offered through an insurance exchange.  Legitimate insurance counselors don’t ask for money.

White House officials also said Medicare beneficiaries do not need to sign up through an insurance exchange.  Advocates for older Americans said that many seniors were confused and wrongly believed that they needed to apply for coverage through the exchanges.

The government warning came several hours after a House committee issued a report detailing “risks of fraud and misinformation” while millions of low- and moderate-income people who are eligible for subsidized insurance enroll in the exchanges.

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform also expressed concern about the security of information that would be made available to insurance counselors who are supposed to educate consumers and help them enroll.  The counselors will often have access to Social Security numbers, dates of birth, home and e-mail addresses, and income data for people seeking insurance and for members of their households, the report said.

It also said, “There are already reports from across the country that scam artists are attempting to impersonate navigators and assisters to steal credit card information and personally identifiable information in order to take advantage of massive confusion about Obamacare.”

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