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Moffitt Fighting Robocalls That Target Patients, Doctors

Jun 27, 2019

Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute in Tampa is one of many health care providers around the country reporting an uptick in roboballs.

Scammers spoofing real phone numbers is so problematic that several medical providers – including Moffitt – recently spoke about the issue to Congress.

At the legislative hearing, Dave Summit, chief information security office for Moffitt, said that from about February through April of this year alone, Moffitt got nearly 7,000 external calls identified as a Moffitt internal phone number.

It took employees 65 hours to respond to these. And over a 30-day period, there were more than 300 calls made to the center under the guise of the U.S. Department of Justice.

These calls show up on caller ID as a health care facility. If you search the number online, it’s that facility’s real number.

Sometimes, the scammers are just looking to make a quick buck. They might tell you that you missed a payment, or need to fulfill your deductible. Other times the real target is data.

And these calls aren't just a nuisance when they target doctors and patients - they're potentially dangerous.

Summit said calls tie up phone lines that could be used for helping patients, and could lead to a “denial of service” against their telecommunication systems, which in turn could shut them down.

“It's not out of the realm of possibility where a bad actor could then take down someone's telecom, hold it ransom until you made the payment, and let the telecom system go,” Summit said. “And that was one of the major concerns we're having in health care at the moment.”

And when scammers successfully get personal information from doctors or patients, they could use that date – sometimes months or years later – to commit Medicare and Medicaid fraud.

"Or even in cases where they're reselling identities that best match another individual for your health,” Summit said. “And that person can go to another facility somewhere and pose as you, get their health care, and walk out. And then guess who's stuck with the bill?"

It could also endanger a patient’s health down the road.

"If that data is ever pulled up, then they're going to see a treatment that appeared to be on you that is not on you,” Summit said. “It's on someone else and could influence the decision of that physician (to give you treatment)."

Summit said if you suspect a call is not legitimate, you should ask the caller for a number to call them back on. If they try to claim it’s important to answer the questions now, it’s a scam. Or, he said, you can just hang up and call the provider directly to confirm it's actually them. 

Summit said the Senate Special Committee on Aging will be discussing this issue next month, since most of the people who fall for these types of scams are elderly.