Even before marketing of Medicare Part D's new prescription drug plans began Oct. 1, officials and advocates for seniors were issuing warnings about what might go wrong as private insurers rev up sales efforts.

"While you're checking out all the promotions," advises AARP on its Web site, "remember that there are some scams out there."

"You can't sign up yet," notes the advocacy group, pointing out that no one can enroll until Nov. 15. "If anyone tries to get you to sign up for a plan before that date, it's a scam." Other advice from AARP:

* Signing up for a plan is free, so don't let anyone charge you an application fee.

* You won't lose your other Medicare benefits if you choose not to join a Part D plan: "If anyone tries to tell you otherwise, they're wrong."

* If you think you've seen an incident of fraud, contact Medicare or your state's attorney general.

"One thing we're most worried about is the telephone calls directly to seniors," said Carolyn Quattrocki, a special assistant to Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran. "Plans that are marketing themselves are going to want you to sign up with their plan and not necessarily educate you about which of the . . . plans would be best for you or, even more important . . . whether you ought to be signing up for Part D at all. . . . Marketers calling people on the phone are not going to be helping them address that question."

According to Medicare's rules, "outbound telemarketing may be used solely to solicit requests for pre-enrollment information, describe benefits, and to alert existing beneficiaries to new benefits or health-related offers. Organizations can also conduct follow-up calls to establish the receipt of requested information and to field questions regarding programs."

In addition to telemarketers skirting the rules, said Quattrocki, the sales campaign for Part D "is just a gold mine for the real scam artists who recognize that this enrollment process . . . is a real opportunity" to talk people out of money and personal information while posing as sales reps. Among her tips: "Don't pay over the phone; make them send you a bill."

To avoid telemarketing, you can add your phone number to the National Do Not Call Registry: Call 888-382-1222 or visit https://www.donotcall.gov.

NOBODY'S PERFECT Medicare pamphlets appeared in Parade magazine on Sept. 25. "After a $250 deductible," the piece said, "Medicare pays 75% of the cost of covered drugs until yearly out-of-pocket costs reach $2,250."

As it turns out, "out-of-pocket" should have been edited out. (Medicare actually pays three-quarters of drug bills until a person spends $500 plus the annual deductible.) Medicare officials said they will correct the error in Parade and other places.

KEEP TELLING US ABOUT IT Keep sending us your comments about your experience with the new Medicare drug program so far. We'll use your ideas to help navigate the unexplored territory that is Part D. The address is medicare@washpost.com.

-- Tom Graham