Medicare beneficiaries across the nation are getting new Medicare identification cards created specifically to help detour identity theft and reduce consumer fraud, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

For the first time since the program’s creation in 1965, beneficiaries’ Social Security Numbers (SSN) will not be used as the Medicare ID number. Rather, each card will have a randomly assigned, 11-character combination of numbers and letters known as the Medicare Beneficiary Identifier (MBI).

For decades, seniors have been victims of criminal scams, many of which exploited the SSN that identifies all Medicare beneficiaries. According to the Department of Justice, identity theft within the nation’s senior population increased from 2.1 million cases in 2012 to 2.6 million incidents in 2014. By removing the SSN from Medicare ID cards, the government can better protect beneficiaries’ personal health care and financial information, and shield federal health care benefit and service payments from criminals.

Here’s what you should know to protect yourself:

  • Medicare will never call you on the telephone, nor will Medicare ever ask for your SSN or bank account number. If anyone calls and asks for such information, hang up: it’s a scam.
  • If you get a letter or email asking you to pay for the new MBI card, don’t respond: it’s a scam. The new Medicare MBI card is free, and all new Medicare cards will be mailed to beneficiaries, with no charges to recipients, nor any changes to benefits.

The card changeover begins in April 2018. CMS expects the transition to be completed and new replacement Medicare ID cards to be in beneficiaries’ hands by December 31, 2019, or sooner. Beneficiaries will be able to use their existing Social Security-numbered card as valid identification during the transition period.

For additional information about the Medicare beneficiary ID card changeover, visit CMS’ website.