Caregivers association warns of fraud
The National Family Caregiver Association (NFCA) was recently contacted by family caregivers notifying them that they received a telephone call soliciting donations to support family caregivers. The caller inferred that their donation would support NFCA. Please note that NFCA does not solicit donations via telephone and that none of the funds raised by this other entity support the work of the National Family Caregivers Association.
NFCA is the nation’s leading family caregiver organization working to improve the quality of caregivers’ lives. Addressing the common needs and concerns of all family caregivers, regardless of their loved one’s age or diagnoses, NFCA provides education, support and advocacy to build the confidence and capability of family caregivers and remove the barriers that make family caregiving so much harder than it needs to be. Visit www.thefamilycaregiver.org
FTC on the lookout for telemarketing schemes
The Federal Trade Commission has identified fraud schemes involving telemarketers and medical alert services. Marketers have placed unsolicited phone calls to elderly consumers to pressure them into buying medical alert services. The services purportedly allow the consumers to receive help during emergencies by pushing a button on a pendant. Even though consumers have refused to buy the services, they have received numerous letters by mail demanding payment for the unwanted services. Usually the letters contain phony invoices and threaten consumers with legal action if they do not immediately pay the bogus charges. Sometimes consumers have also received abusive follow-up phone calls from the marketers and packages in the mail containing unordered medical alert pendants.
If you or someone you know has received unsolicited calls like this, please contact your Montana SMP. Call 728-7682 in the Missoula area, or find the Montana SMP nearest you by calling 1-800-551-3191.
One Saturday at 7 a.m., Mr. L. woke up to the phone ringing. A man announced that he was calling to get information for the new type of Medicare card that would be issued to Mr. L. to replace the old card. Mr. L., still half asleep, gave the information requested to the man, who then hung up without further conversation. It was then that Mr. L. realized this was probably not an official call and that he had just had his identity stolen. Unfortunately, he did not have Caller ID on his phone, so he had no way of knowing the number of the caller.
This incident happened in Montana, and it could happen to you. If you or someone you know receives a similar call, these are steps you can take:
1. Call your bank immediately if you gave out your account information. You may want to consider changing your accounts altogether.
2. Call your local Montana SMP or 1-800-551-3191 to report it if it is regarding healthcare fraud, waste or abuse. SMP can help direct you in the steps you need to take, as well as refer it on as necessary for you. SMP also shares the scam details with seniors across the state and with SMP’s in other states, to help stop other people from becoming victims.
4. Call 1-800-MEDICARE and let them know your Medicare number has been compromised if you gave it out. Unlike a credit card that you can cancel, the Medicare number is permanent. Medicare can put it on a list of compromised cards to ensure it is not wrongfully billed. You can also sign up for an account at MyMedicare.gov to track your MSN’s and ensure anything that is being billed under your name is legitimate.
5. Call Consumer Protection Office at 800-481-6896 if you have any contact information and lodge a complaint.
6. Contact the Federal Trade Commission at:
Toll-free helpline: 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357);
Identity Theft helpline: 1-877-ID-THEFT (1-877-438-4338); TTY: 1-866-653-4261
Forward unsolicited commercial email (spam), including phishing messages, directly to the FTC at firstname.lastname@example.org. These messages will be stored in a database law enforcement agencies use in their investigations.
The FTC enters all complaints it receives into Consumer Sentinel, a secure online database that is used by thousands of civil and criminal law enforcement authorities worldwide. The FTC does not resolve individual consumer complaints.
FTC’s Identity Theft guide: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/. It provides good step-by-step instructions for victims or potential victims.
7. File a police report.
A police report that contains specific details of an identity theft is considered an Identity Theft Report under section 605B of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), and it entitles an identity theft victim to certain important protections that can help him or her recover more quickly from identity theft.
8. Place a Fraud Alert on your credit reports, and review your credit reports.
Fraud alerts can help prevent an identity thief from opening any more accounts in your name. Contact the toll-free fraud number of any of the three consumer reporting companies below to place a fraud alert on your credit report. You only need to contact one of the three companies to place an alert. The company you call is required to contact the other two, which will place an alert on their versions of your report, too. If you do not receive a confirmation from a company, you should contact that company directly to place a fraud alert.
TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289; www.transunion.com; Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790
Equifax: 1-800-525-6285; www.equifax.com; P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742); www.experian.com; P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013
Once you place the fraud alert in your file, you're entitled to order one free copy of your credit report from each of the three consumer reporting companies, and, if you ask, only the last four digits of your Social Security number will appear on your credit reports. Once you get your credit reports, review them carefully. Look for inquiries from companies you haven't contacted, accounts you didn't open, and debts on your accounts that you can't explain. Check that information, like your Social Security number, address(es), name or initials, and employers are correct. If you find fraudulent or inaccurate information, get it removed. See Correcting Fraudulent Information in Credit Reports to learn how. When you correct your credit report, use an Identity Theft Report with a cover letter explaining your request, to get the fastest and most complete results.
Continue to check your credit reports periodically, especially for the first year after you discover the identity theft, to make sure no new fraudulent activity has occurred.
Sophisticated credit card scam targeting Montanans
Attorney General Steve Bullock warned Montanans of the following phone scam which works like this:
- A caller phones you and claims to be with your credit card company. The caller claims unusual charges have been made on your account and he or she wants to “verify” them. The caller usually lists three or four charges, totaling thousands of dollars, and asks if they are correct.
- The caller then says he or she believes you have been the victim of credit card fraud and gives you a number to call to “clear up” the charges – a number that will only draw you further into the scam.
- The scam takes several forms. In the one circulating in Montana now, the person who answers your call eventually claims to have cleared your account of the charges. Some victims have been asked to call back more than once to give the individual “time to investigate” and clear the fraudulent charges from your account.
- At some point, the scammer asks for your credit card number and three-digit security code. In other versions of the scam, the caller already has your credit card number and is seeking only your three-digit security code. Once the scammer has that information, he or she begins to charge things on your card.
A woman in Missoula was hit by this scam last month and shared her story with the attorney general's office. This scam succeeds because it sounds real. Many of us have received legitimate calls from a credit or debit card company making protective inquiries into our accounts.
Be suspicious of anyone who requests your credit card number, security code or card expiration date over the phone. Many banks monitor their customers’ credit cards for unusual activity and will contact a customer if they suspect fraud has been committed, but banks never ask for your personal credit card information over the phone. They don’t need that information; they already have it. If you receive a phone call about suspected credit card fraud, do not give out your personal credit card information. If at any point, you become suspicious of the call, hang up and call the 1-800 number on your credit card or the number of the bank that issued the card.
Please forward this information on to others. Scams move quickly and the best way to defeat them is through information to prevent them before they occur.
If you or someone you know has been targeted by this scam, please contact the Office of Consumer Protection at 1-800-481-6896 and report it. You can also report scams online here.
Grandparent Scam just got scarier
In California, the Better Business Bureau recently issued a RED ALERT regarding a new twist on the Grandparent Scam that involves the caller already knowing detailed information regarding family members. In addition, the calls are not targeted strictly at seniors and the money requested is to be wired to Mexico.
Although Montana SMP has not had reports of this new version of the scam in Montana, please be aware of how it works. Contact your local authorities or the Montana SMP nearest you at 1-800-331-5191 if you receive any suspicious calls.
The original scam generally worked like this--the grandparent receives a distressed phone call from someone they believe is their grandchild. The supposed grandchild typically explains that they are travelling in Canada and have been arrested or involved in an auto accident. They need the grandparent to wire money, post bail or pay for damages-usually amounting to a few thousand dollars.
The scammers' basic tactic is to pose as a grandchild and let the unsuspecting grandparent fill in the blanks. For example, the scam caller might say, "It's me, your favorite grandchild," to which the grandparent will guess the name of the grandchild it sounds the most like, and the call proceeds from there.
In the updated scam, callers identify themselves by specific name as a particular family member. They say they are being held in jail in Mexico and they need bail money wired immediately. They lace their conversation with correct references by name to other family members, increasing their credibility. One caller even knew that the real person being impersonated had a twin who was born two minutes later.
Law enforcement officials are not certain how perpetrators are obtaining the inside knowledge or phone numbers for victims.
To protect yourself from this scam, and other scams that may use a distressed loved-one tactic, you are advised to remain calm and confirm the status of the individual by calling them back directly or verifying the story with other family members before taking any further action. Developing a secret code that is known only within the family is also recommended.
You are also encouraged to limit the amount of personal information shared on social media sites and to only "friend" people who you personally know.
Be on alert for possible health insurance scam
Medicaid offices in several states have received reports that insurance agents are showing up at the homes of seniors explaining that they are with ObamaCare, and represent the Federal Government. These agents then try to sell insurance policies. Although Montana not had reports of this type of activity, please be on the alert if anyone comes to your door claiming to represent a Federal Government health insurance plan. Report it to the state Medicaid office or the Area Agency on Aging nearest you if you suspect someone is trying to scam you. In Missoula County, call 728-7682.
Missoula Police Dept. warns of recent scams
The Missoula Police Dept. reports a recent increase in telephone, Internet and mail scams. Some are new variations on old themes, such as the following, originating from Canada:
A caller represents him or herself as a law enforcement officer or a representative from the Magistrates Court demanding bail/bond money to release a relative (usually a grandson or granddaughter) from jail. The caller uses the correct names and addresses because he or she has researched the information first through the Internet, using such websites as Facebook. The caller requests the money (usually over $1,000) be sent by Money Gram or Western Union.
By mail, residents have received phony checks with letters asking the victim to cash the checks and send back a certain percentage of the money for processing. The checks later prove to be no good. Another mail scam involves the senders posing as relatives saying they are in jail and need money, as in the phone scam above. In another mail scam, a letter may inform the victim that he or she has won a lottery but must send money to receive the payoff. Remember: Never pay anything to receive “winnings” or participate in international lotteries.
The most common sources for Internet scams in Missoula seem to originate from Nigeria, Canada and Jamaica. Often, the offer is similar to the mail offers above. Another variation is to tell the victim that a relative overseas has died and willed money to the victim, who can claim the money by sending a fee.
Missoula Police Department Crime Prevention Officer Rob Scheben reminds residents to be wary, and never give out a credit card number or other personal information or agree to send money to a stranger who calls. Report any suspicious calls, letters or email messages to the police, who work with the Office of Consumer Protection when scams are reported. In Missoula, call 552-6335.
Phony IRS emails circulating
A September 2009 mass e-mailing is spamming Internet users with phony notices that warn recipients they might be targets of IRS fraud investigations due to having unreported or underreported income. The message invites the reader to click on a link to "review" their "tax statements" on the IRS web site. (The provided link leads to an .EXE file that likely is a carrier of some form of malware.)
The IRS never sends out unsolicited e-mails to taxpayers. When the IRS needs to contact a taxpayer, it sends notice via U.S. Mail. Every such notice includes a telephone number that the recipient can call for confirmation. Should you need to visit the IRS web site for any reason, go there directly (by entering the www.irs.gov URL into your web browser) rather than following links in e-mail messages.
The IRS reminds us on their website:
The IRS does not initiate taxpayer communications through e-mail. The IRS does not request detailed personal information through e-mail.
The IRS does not send e-mail requesting your PIN numbers, passwords or similar access information for credit cards, banks or other financial accounts.
Report suspicious e-mails and bogus IRS Web sites to email@example.com.
Do not reply if you receive an e-mail from someone claiming to be the IRS or directing you to an IRS site.
Do not open any attachments. Attachments may contain malicious code that will infect your computer.
Do not click on any links. If you clicked on links in a suspicious e-mail or phishing Web site and entered confidential information, visit the IRS Identity Theft page.
Be alert for callers requesting personal bank information
The Social Security Administration (SSA) has been contacted by a number of SSA beneficiaries who report the following:
Callers impersonating SSA officials offer beneficiaries an increase in current benefits of between $300 and $500, along with other awards such as gasoline vouchers. The caller identifies the reasons for the increase as either: a reward for excellent credit; money owed the beneficiary by the government; a refund of back taxes; or increased benefits resulting from new legislation.
The caller informs the persons called of the monetary award, and also provides their true name, address, SSN, and bank routing number. The caller then asks for the bank account number into which the money will purportedly be deposited.
More than 50 incidents of this nature, spanning the entire country, have thus far been reported to the OIG. Reports have consistently related that the caller speaks with a highly distinctive foreign accent.
If you receive any calls of a similar nature, please neither release any personal information, nor verify any personal information that the caller may provide. Contact your local SSA field office immediately.
Be alert for health care plan marketing violations
Please be aware there have been cases in the Billings area of alleged marketing violations. Based on Caller ID’s, Pennsylvania Life Ins Co (214-357-9353) is allegedly cold-calling seniors and scheduling appointments, giving them all passwords to use so they can identify the agent that comes to see them. An agent then shows up for the appointment and has been selling Today’s Options. All of these calls were unsolicited.
The marketing guidelines are clear and are for everyone’s protection. Medicare Advantage Plans are health plan options approved by Medicare and run by private companies. Medicare Advantage Plans aren’t the same as the Original Medicare Plan or Medigap (Medicare Supplement Insurance) policies. All persons representing Medicare Advantage Plans must follow certain rules when giving you information about their plan. These rules also apply to independent agents and brokers working with Medicare Advantage Plans.
Among other rules, Medicare Advantage Plans CAN’T come to your home uninvited to sell or endorse any Medicare-related product or offer you cash to join their plan.
For a complete set of these rules, please see your local SHIP office at 1-800-551-3191. These rules are there for the beneficiaries protection and any break of these rules needs to be reported.
Jury duty scam reported
Most of us take those summons for jury duty seriously, but enough people skip out on their civic duty, that a new and ominous kind of scam has surfaced.
The caller claims to be a jury coordinator. If you protest that you never received a summons for jury duty, the scammer asks you for your Social Security number and date of birth so he or she can verify the information and cancel the arrest warrant. Give out any of this information and bingo, your identity just got stolen.
The scam has been reported so far in 11 states, including Oklahoma, Illinois and Colorado. This scam is particularly insidious because they use intimidation over the phone to try to bully people into giving information by pretending they're with the court system. The FBI and the federal court system have issued nationwide alerts on their web sites, warning consumers about the fraud.
Websites offer up-to-date fraud information
Several websites offer up-to-date information about past and present frauds and scams, and how to avoid being defrauded. Links are available by clicking on the "Links" bar on the Missoula Aging Services home page. Then scroll down the list to the heading "Senior Fraud Alerts & Information."
Fraud and scam information - they want to take your money:
You probably have heard it many times: "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is." How do you tell the difference between an offer that's genuine and a trap?
If you feel you may have been the victim of any of the following scams, or you or a senior you know feel that something is fishy or just plain scary, please call 728-7682 and ask to speak to the Senior Help Line or call your local police.
Unscrupulous people (con artists) try to take advantage of seniors in the following ways:
- telemarketing (unscrupulous or persistent phone solicitors)
- door-to-door solicitors
- mail fraud
- con games
- "dream" vacations
- home repair or improvement
- work-at-home advertisements
- high return (high-risk!) investments
- internet schemes
- hearing aids
- funeral-related scams (those who prey on the newly bereaved)
- banking scams
And these are just the ones that law enforcement knows about!
It may be embarrassing to admit that you've been swindled, but reporting the scam will help prevent it from happening to others.