Scams take advantage of Obamacare confusion

A screen still of the HealthCare.gov Web site. Healthcare.gov

(MoneyWatch) Now that the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare, has arrived, it's not surprising that scammers are riding on its coattails, trying to take advantage of confusion about the law and its implications.

Indeed, confusion abounds, and the government is doing little to mitigate the problem. As The Washington Post recently reported, the official Obamacare website is so punishingly abysmal that you can expect no help there.

So you should be on your guard -- and be ready to mentor other, less-informed friends and family in ways to avoid fraud and scams as well. As personal finance blog Wisebread recently wrote, there are a slew of ways that criminals are trying to profit from people's ignorance and fear. Here are some things to watch out for:

Ignore solicitors. Government representatives are not authorized to reach out directly to citizens to talk about Obamacare, so cold calls and emails are likely fakes. And while you can use HealthCare.gov to find counselors who can help you with health care questions, they don't charge a fee. If someone offers to help but requires a payment, move along.

Don't fall prey to fear tactics. If you're contacted by someone insisting you need to pay healthcare insurance fees immediately or pay penalties, you're working with a scammer. These scammers often use threats and scare tactics to frighten people into paying money. But the penalty for not having healthcare doesn't even kick in until 2014, and the first year it's quite small -- just $95.

Be sure you're not on a bogus website. The official Obamacare website is not good. But it's real. Be sure that any site you're on is valid, though. The Washington Post recently reported that at least two websites were reported and taken down as scammers.

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