President Donald Trump has vowed to dismantle Obamacare -- and con artists have been listening. Earlier this year, the government nixed the so-called individual mandate that required all Americans to buy health insurance or pay a tax penalty. And last month, new rules were adopted that allow millions of people to buy cheaper "temporary" health policies if they don't get coverage through work.
That has created a boom in health insurance scams, experts say. Health care-related cons didn't even register among the top 10 scams as recently as February, but they now account for nearly one-quarter of all illegal computer-generated calls, according to YouMail, a free robocall blocking service for cell phones.
"There has been an explosion of health- and health insurance-related scams that use a variety of pretenses to collect personal information or payments for insurance that's never delivered," said YouMail CEO Alex Quilici. "Crooks see what's in the news, and they try to leverage it. They're consummate marketers -- they're just in the wrong business."
YouMail collects scripts that robocallers leave in messages on blocked consumer cell phones and then it analyzes what the crooks are after, Quilici said. In this case, YouMail believes the bulk of the health care robocalls are aimed at perpetrating identity theft.
"Right now, you see a lot of them saying that the consumer can get a big discount on health insurance," he said. "And since we're used to giving a ton of private information when we apply for health insurance, you might not suspect anything when they ask for your Social Security number."
This month, the service detected 409 million health-related robocalls -- a 10-fold increase from previous surveys, said Quilici. The other top robocalling scams in August involved bogus low-interest rate borrowing deals and "easy money" programs that demand up-front payments for worthless or nonexistent job opportunities. Both of these scams are perennial favorites.
Scam robocalls calls continued to grow In August, to an estimated 1.76 billion calls, or nearly 42 percent of all robocalls made during the month. (Some computer-generated calls, such as those you've authorized to remind you to make a payment or call your doctor for a checkup, are legal.)
Ironically, Quilici attributes the rising volume of illegal robocalls to the fact that consumers have gotten better at blocking and ignoring them.
"You have blocking services like ours that are really reaching scale, and more and more carriers are rolling out tools to block the calls or at least make their customers aware of the type of call that's coming in," he said. "There's higher volume because the scammers can't get through, so they have to call again."