Spanish-speaker consumers in Texas are being warned of a scam from people posing as debt collectors claiming they are representing the government organizations, Attorney General Ken Paxton said today. Paxton issued a warning after scam artists are posing as representatives “of the Texas Supreme Court and demands payment of outstanding debts supposedly incurred by consumers sometime in the past.”
“Every day, Texans unfortunately lose money to scams and frauds, and my office is committed to protecting consumers by spreading the word about such fraudulent activity, and informing them about what to do if they fall victim,” said Attorney General Paxton. “The first line of defense against scammers and con artists is education, and a wide variety of important topics are addressed in the consumer protection section of our website.”
According to complaints fielded by Paxton’s office, “the person calling says the consumer can either appear in court and pay the alleged debt – which varies from $1,000 to $7,000 – or resolve the matter immediately by sending funds directly to the scammers. How the debt was incurred is never explained. The form of payment requested by the caller is either through pre-paid cash cards or wired funds through Western Union.”
The Texas Attorney General’s Office suggests anyone receiving such a call from an unsubstantiated government debt collection agency should first verify that the request is legitimate.
“To do so, Texans should directly contact the government agency that is allegedly seeking the funds by using a phone number for the government agency that is independent of the one provided by the caller,” said Paxton. “ If you do receive a call from a debt collector claiming to be calling on behalf of a government or law enforcement entity, please try to copy the telephone number of the caller, then stop the call and contact the Consumer Protection Division of the Texas Attorney General’s Office at (800) 621-0508 or (512) 463-2070.”
The Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, brings with it staggering opportunities for other frauds associated with healthcare and malpractice. The Department of Justice and Office of Inspector General (OIG) reports that 2015 was particularly troublesome.
Last June, the Department of Health and Human Services charged over 240 people, including 46 physicians, nurses and licensed medical professionals for their roles in $712 million of alleged Medicare fraud. Money laundering, aggravated identity theft and kick-back schemes were just some of the activities that amounted to “the largest criminal health care fraud takedown in the history of the Department of Justice, and it adds to an already remarkable record of enforcement,” stated U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch.
Lynch said the defendants “billed for equipment that wasn’t provided, for care that wasn’t needed, and for services that weren’t rendered.”
Other multi-million dollar healthcare scandals last year included:
- The DOJ reported that when investigations showed Millennium Health was involved in physician kickbacks activity, they agreed to pay $256 million in restitution. The investigation also showed medically unnecessary medical lab testing took place.
- A $158 million scheme put hospital, a psychiatric facility and group home officials in prison last June. Earnest Gibson III, the former President of Riverside General Hospital, Earnest Gibson IV, Operator of Devotions Care Solutions, a satellite psychiatric facility of Riverside General Hospital, and Regina Askew, Owner of Safe and Sound group home, were sentenced. The DOJ reported that six others pleaded guilty with restitution amounts approaching $100 million.
- “Rather than providing needed medical care to a historically underserved community, the defendants ran a longstanding hospital into the ground through their greed and fraud,” stated Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.
- Adventist Health System agreed to pay $115 million to settle False Claim Act allegations from their trial last September. The case involved physicians receiving bonuses for the number of tests and procdures they ordered.
“Unlawful financial arrangements between heath care providers and their referral sources raise concerns about physician independence and objectivity,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer, Head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “Patients are entitled to be sure that the care they receive is based on their actual medical needs rather than the financial interests of their physician.”
In Fiscal Year 2014 about $3.3 billion in taxpayer dollars was recovered from companies and individuals attempting to defraud federal health programs. Since 1997, over $28 billion has been returned to the Medicare Trust Fund over the life of the Health Care Fraud and Abuse Control (HCFAC) Program.
“Another powerful tool in the effort to combat health care fraud is the federal False Claims Act,” states a release from the Justice Department’s Civil Division and the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices. In 2014, they “obtained $2.3 billion in settlements and judgments from civil cases involving fraud and false claims against federal health care programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. Since January 2009, the Justice Department has recovered more than $15.2 billion in cases involving health care fraud.”
“These amounts reflect federal losses only. In many of these cases, the department was instrumental in recovering additional billions of dollars for state health care programs. In FY 2014, the department continued its enforcement of the civil False Claims Act and the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, and opened 782 new civil health care fraud investigations.”