Financial predators are always on the prowl, eager to take advantage of the fiscally inexperienced and the vulnerable. As financial pressures increase for many throughout the nation, the number and sophistication of personal finance related scams continues to rise, with new twists on such scam classics as the advance fee loan scam to the recent surge in health care scams, such as the discount health care cards. Caution and due diligence are essential parts of maintaining personal finance health today.

Health care scams are among the fastest growing in the nation, as people struggle to get adequate or even any sort of affordable health care coverage at all. One of the most commonly seen is the health care discount card. A person signs up, paying fees, which may be annual or monthly, in exchange for discounts for various medical providers, services, and prescriptions.

On June 3, 2009, CNN.com reported on the medical discount card phenomenon, noting that, according to information from “the Consumer Health Alliance, a trade group representing companies that sell the cards” millions of Americans have purchased such cards. However, as the article also reports, “the Federal Trade Commission and at least eight states have taken action against more than two dozen health cards for offering discounts services that don’t exist.”

“There’s a tremendous amount of fraud and deception in these plans because they’re not well regulated,” said Jim Quiggle, who is a spokesman for the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, as quoted in the CNN.com story. While there may be some that are legitimate, these medical discount card programs should be viewed with suspicion and researched very carefully before any money changes hands.

A July 8, 2009, report by WLTX.com made note of the numerous complaints against health discount card providers, with consumers contacting the state’s Department of Consumer Affairs because “the seller does not give the cover they promise, or they provide no coverage at all.” In many cases, health care providers that the discount card sellers claim are participating in their network have no knowledge of the card at all.

The WLTX.com article did a great job in providing the warning signs that consumers should look for if considering the purchase of a health care discount card. Taking the time to do some research and ask some questions can help to avoid getting caught up in a health care coverage or discount scam.

Being asked to pay hundreds of dollars up front is a red flag. Being told that you cannot have a list of participating doctors and health care providers before fees are paid is another important warning sign. If given a list of participating health care providers, contact member doctors and make sure that they are, in fact, familiar with the discount program and do accept it in their practice. Aggressive marketing using such terms as “guaranteed coverage,” as well as marketing that fails to distinguish between what it is – a discount card – and what it isn’t – health insurance should signal extreme caution is necessary.

In today’s climate of ever increasing healthcare costs, being without adequate health care coverage can be very stressful, especially for those that have pre-existing health problems and chronic illnesses. The financial potentials of a health care emergency are frightening. That is why so many are vulnerable to being taken in by scammers promising affordable health care coverage. When it comes to personal finance matters, becoming an informed consumer is an essential means of protecting your fiscal health and avoiding being victimized by scam artists.

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