By Nancy Gay
We all get phone calls from phone numbers we don’t recognize or calls from numbers that seem legitimate only to find out it’s a scammer. These robocalls can be annoying, but when they happen to a health care system like Moffitt Cancer Center, they can also be dangerous.
Dave Summitt, Moffitt’s chief information security officer, said over the past 18 months the cancer center has seen an uptick in robocalls. During the first quarter of this year, Moffitt received more than 7,000 external calls that looked like they came from a phone number inside the cancer center. Plus, another 300 calls in a 30-day period that looked like they were coming from the U.S. Department of Justice.
It took Moffitt employees more than 65 hours to respond to the robocalls, which is time away from patients. The calls also tie up the phone lines that can prevent patients from calling in with concerns or questions.
Moffitt was approached by concerned citizens who said they received scam phone calls. The incoming calls appeared to be from Moffitt Cancer Center on their caller ID. But when answered it was a scammer on the line. The fear is that eventually the scammer will dial an actual Moffitt patient and ask for personal information that the hospital already has on file.
According to Summitt, it’s hard to take action when someone’s health care data is compromised because the scammers usually wait 12 to 24 months before doing anything with it. He says scammers often use that data to commit Medicare and Medicaid fraud. Summitt warns the scammer may use your personal information to get health care treatment, which is extremely dangerous because when you go to the doctor they may pull up your record and treat you based on the fraudulent person’s last visit.
Summitt recently testified before a congressional committee encouraging action to stop spam callers that target health care facilities and threaten patient’s safety across the country. His testimony was a part of the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on several pieces of legislation to crack down on scam callers.
Summitt asked Congress to consider three changes to improve anti-robocall legislation, including:
- Require accurate caller identification.
- Hold telecommunications carriers responsible, at least in part, for cracking down on robocalls.
- Require telecommunications carriers work with businesses to investigate and stop malicious activity.
Summitt warns people to be cautious about emails or phone calls you may receive, especially from unfamiliar sources. He says there are precautions you can take to protect yourself such as:
- Do not answer calls from numbers you don’t recognize.
- Ask the caller for their contact information. If they do not give you the number they are calling from, be highly suspicious. If they are with a legitimate organization, they will oblige. Then you can actually look up the phone number to determine if it belongs to who they say they are.
- Hang up the phone if you are uncomfortable with what the caller is asking you to do. If you suspect it was a real phone call, then directly call the organization.
- If you receive a suspicious email, delete it and do not respond to it.
Summitt cautions against using third-party systems to block phone calls because it may stop real phone calls from getting through. Remember, the caller ID is spoofed; it is not the number that is really calling.
Summitt’s testimony was signed by health care systems across nine states and Washington D.C. The Senate Special Committee on Aging will discuss the issue this month because most of the people who fall for these scams are elderly.