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With Medicare open enrollment in full swing, it’s time to talk about protecting yourself from the crooks who use this period to steal from you.

Medicare scams occur all the time, but the open-enrollment period is prime time for thieves to unleash their attempts to scam seniors.

During open enrollment, which runs through Dec. 7, Medicare participants can change their health and prescription drug coverage for 2015.

“For identity thieves, it’s open season,” AARP said.

One of the most common tricks is for crooks to pose as employees from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the federal agency that administers the Medicare program.

A scammer will tell Medicare beneficiaries that the caller needs their Social Security number, bank account numbers or other personal information so the government can issue a new Medicare card.

Don’t believe it. CMS will never call and request such data.

“It’s illegal for someone to call and ask for your Medicare number, Social Security number, or bank or credit card information,” CMS says on its Medicare blog. “A Medicare representative or a private insurance plan working with Medicare will never call and ask for this information, and we will never call you or come to your home uninvited to sell Medicare products.”

So guard your Social Security number and your Medicare card. Your Medicare number is usually your Social Security number.

Don’t let anyone borrow or pay you to use your Medicare card or your personal information.

Some crooks may try to confuse you about Medicare open enrollment and open enrollment for the state-based health insurance marketplaces created by the federal Affordable Care Act.

It’s easy to see how they could sow confusion since open enrollment for the marketplace, which starts Nov. 15, overlaps with the Medicare open enrollment period. But they’re not the same thing.

“The marketplace is designed to help people who don’t have any health coverage,” CMS said. “If you have health coverage through Medicare, the marketplace won’t have any effect on your Medicare coverage.

“In fact, it’s against the law for someone who knows that you have Medicare to sell you a marketplace plan.”

Finally, be suspicious of people offering free medical equipment or services, and requesting your Medicare number.

Be on high alert during Medicare open enrollment. And if you suspect Medicare fraud, call Medicare toll free at 800-633-4227.

Pamela Yip is a personal finance columnist for the Dallas Morning News.

pyip@dallasnews.com

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