The launch of the Affordable Care Act, instead of killing jobs, gave birth to a brand-new and potentially lucrative industry: fake insurance websites.
According to the Washington Examiner more than 700 websites have been launched whose names play off variations of Obamacare-related buzzwords. Some of them appear to be simple website squatting, buying URLs in hopes that someone else will pay a premium for the real estate later, while some have more malicious goals: tricking would-be insurance shoppers into giving up sensitive data like their social security numbers.
Before the launch (and debacle) of Healthcare.gov, there were warnings from the tech-security industry that enrollees could be fooled by faux-bamacare sites. Although most criticism of the ACA focuses on the federal site, Healthcare.gov, there are also state-run exchanges and legitimate third-party websites where people can shop for insurance.
Multiply sign-up points seems sensible enough, as Healthcare.gov-gate proves the folly of relying on a single website. However, as Christopher Budd at Trend Micro pointed out, “there’s no official marking or labeling that [consumers] can look at on a site to know that it’s an officially sanctioned site." This opens the possibility for people to give away sensitive information to anyone with a half-way convincing site.
As John McAfee put it on Fox News, “any hacker can put a website up, and make it look extremely competitive, and because of the nature of the system—this is health care, after all—they can ask you the most intimate questions and you're freely going to answer them."
Normally when buying a domain, it’s customary to buy other, similar domains and just have them redirect to the correct site. Hence, Gooogle.com takes you where you probably wanted to go, even if your hand trembles.
For whatever reason—an inept understanding of the internet, or perhaps as a cost-cutting measure—neither the federal government nor the states did this. Not all of the websites with confusingly similar names are designed to siphon traffic; Healthcare.com is a legitimate site that has been around since 1994. But in this fertile, shadowy world of near-miss URLs, new websites emerged. You could pretty much just take magnetic poetry of "health care," "obamacare," "exchange," and "insurance," toss in any mixture of hyphens, and .com or .org in your browser for quite a while before you hit on a variation that isn't already purchased.
California is the first state to strike back against the fraudulent sites. Attorney General Kamala Harris ordered 10 websites taken down that were imitating coveredca.com, the most successful state health-care exchange. California's Affordable Care Act prohibits entities from claiming to provide services on behalf of Covered California without a valid agreement with the state exchange. In their defense, though, California’s exchange does have a pretty confusing name compared to the now-defunct "CoveredCalifornia.com."
I poked around on a few of Fauxbamacare sites and contacted their administrators, but with no luck getting a response. The most blatant imitation of the federal healthcare exchange was linked to an insurance broker near Orlando, Florida. The URL is a pair of buzzwords and was purchased two days after the Affordable Care Act was signed. There might not be anything illegal about what the site does, but they didn't appear to have anything to actually do with the ACA—Healthcare.gov doesn't list it as a place to find "local help" with insurance in Central Florida. I used the chat feature on Healthcare.gov to ask if there was any connection, and "Christy" told me to only use the federal site, or the one for New York State (where I live), and said that she would recommend avoiding that site.
Health care fraud isn’t new. The FBI estimated that fraud already costs the country $80 billion. What’s additionally depressing is that several of the fraudulent websites I visited looked and appeared to function much better than Healthcare.gov, which, in addition to poor functionality, is full of typos and poor formatting. In other words, some of these fake Obamacare sites might not just look better than the real thing, they might be better at getting your data, too.