Victim of Arizona insurance scam speaks out

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – There’s an update on an insurance scam that is targeting Native homeless people, and taking them from the Albuquerque streets across state lines.

KOB 4 shows you a first-hand story of what one woman experienced. She says she was taken to Arizona with the promise of free rehab. It turned out “rehab” wasn’t quite what they were doing in these so-called sober homes in Phoenix. 

Vanesia Maria was living on the streets in the International District when she got a text from a friend– who she hasn’t seen in a while– telling her about this free rehab program in Arizona. It all sounded good on paper, but her time in “treatment” quickly took a turn for the worst.

“I’m a recovering addict now I’m almost to my 90 days. But when I heard about the program I was out in the war zone in Albuquerque,” said Maria. 

Soon after she was picked up and brought out to a house just south of Phoenix where she signed up for a program called “Recovery for Success,” but the organizers said she needed to sign up for a few more things.

“You do need to switch over to Indian Access Health Insurance, and you need to switch over your food stamps when you get to Arizona,” Maria said. 

Street Safe New Mexico executive director explains that insurance policy is where this scam really starts.

“The whole scam is they would use that person’s name in their so-called rehab, but use that person’s name to pretend they are a patient, then bill for services that they rendered,” said Christine Barber, executive director of Street Safe New Mexico. 

For Maria, at first it seemed legit.

“It was nice at the first house for the first four days, three days,” she said. 

Then she got moved to a different so-called “sober living” house. 

“They were still allowing them to drink, they would let them come back to the house drunk, and at one point – when they were still really hung over – they would allow them to drink in the houses, and the staff would even buy them one or two beers,” said Maria.  

KOB 4 tried looking up the program Maria signed up for, but there weren’t many results for Recovery for Success in Phoenix.  The phone number led to another dead end.

But, when Maria realized she wasn’t getting the help she signed up for, she called her parents. They picked her up and brought her back to New Mexico.

“I cancelled the insurance, I cancelled the food stamps as soon as they picked me up,” said Maria. 

But Maria’s problems didn’t end when she crossed state lines, because the program still had her personal information after she got home she got a call:

“A week later I get a call from a doctor’s office saying like, ‘Is this so-and-so, is this Vanecia?’ I said, ‘Yes it is.’ And they said, ‘We are just calling to make sure you were the one that was seen at the hospital on this day?’ And I was like, ‘I don’t even stay there, I’m out in New Mexico now, I wasn’t even in Arizona that day! I wasn’t seen at any hospital,’” Maria said 

Maria says she hasn’t gotten any more weird calls about insurance or doctor’s appointments since.

Last week, KOB 4 spoke with a local FBI agent who told us the Phoenix FBI field office has an open investigation looking into these types of insurance scams.