If it seems too good to be true, trust your instincts…it’s too good to be true! That’s the overall message from the recent AARP Virginia-sponsored Scam Jam at the Virginia Commonwealth University Hub in Churchill.
Jeff Feighner of the Richmond City Sheriff’s Office offered suggestions on ways to avoid scammers in various situations when you’re out and about; on the phone; or online. When you’re out and about town, consider going with a group if you can, don’t carry your Social Security card, trust your instincts—if a situation makes you uncomfortable, leave. Carry your phone with you at all times and let someone know where you’re going and when you plan to return.
When on the phone, user caller ID. Do you have voicemail? Use it. If a number comes up on your phone that you do not recognize, let it go to voicemail. Then its your choice to talk to them or not. If you do answer, do not give any personal information. Online risks include posting personal information on social media sites like Facebook or family tree sites and class reunion sites. All provide personal information that can be used to scam unsuspecting users. Feighner also offered the top five scams to be aware of. They include:
· Social Security Scam – Caller says that you owe the Social Security Administration money and you need to pay it immediately.
· IRS Impersonators – Also insist that payment is needed immediately.
· Lottery Winner – Congratulations, you won the lottery. They ask for your Social Security number and banking information
· Car Wrap Scam – Caller offers to pay you to put a company’s logo on your car. They will send you a check, you deposit it, keep your fee and then send a check to the company. You’ve been scammed, the check you wrote is deducted from your money and the check you deposited bounces.
· Technical Support – When you click a link on your PC or laptop, a message pops up saying you have contracted a virus and you need to contact Microsoft immediately to fix the problem. The phone number is not to Microsoft but that is how they answer the phone and then ask if they can connect to your PC to fix the problem. If you allow them access to your PC, they can scan your files to get personal information. Do not call the number offered, do not click any link…shut down your PC immediately and restart. The problem goes away.
Shawn Smith, state director of Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP), presented information about senior medical fraud. SMPs are volunteer organizations that assist Medicare beneficiaries, their families and caregivers to prevent, detect and report healthcare fraud, errors and abuse. Some prominent healthcare scams include:
· Government Imposter – Caller asks if you received your new Medicare card and then asking you to verify your personal information. Refusal to comply typically elicits a threat from the caller that you may lose your benefits if you do not comply.
· Durable Medical Equipment – Caller offers a free device based on their phone diagnosis of the symptoms you have provided. A few days later you receive the equipment as promised but additional devices are included in the package that were not specifically addressed. Medicare is billed for thousands of dollars.
· Genetic Testing – Caller offers test that can identify genetic markers for diseases and cancers. All you need to do is swab your cheek, mail it in and they will test. You will need to sign a contract giving them permission. Embedded in the contract, in the fine print, is a statement that you will pay for any charges that are not covered by Medicare. Surprise, Medicare does not cover genetic testing unless requested by a physician. You are on the hook for thousands of dollars.
The final two speakers were Paul Greenwood, former deputy district attorney of San Diego County, Calif., for the Elder Abuse Unit, and Kate Kleinert who work together to educate others about elder abuse. Elder abuse/exploitation is the epidemic of our times, they said. The typical case involves those 65 years of age and older and relies on the silence of the victim because no one wants to admit that they were scammed, it’s embarrassing. Greenwood implores you to break the silence and tell someone what happened. He also offered the following tips:
· Choose a caregiver with caution…never select one from a newspaper ad.
· Keep an inventory of your jewelry (photo or video).
· Everyone should have a shredder.
· Protect your incoming and outgoing mail. Never allow incoming mail to sit for extended periods of time in an unsecured mailbox.
· Obtain a credit search at least 2-3 times per year (Freecreditreport.com).
· Use Caller ID.
· Remember, you will never win the Canadian Lottery—so they will never call you
· The IRS will never call you unsolicited.
· Your grandchild will never call you from jail and if they do, leave them there overnight.
· Don’t go looking for love in all the wrong places – parking lot, door-to-door, casinos, online.
Kleinert finished the session with her personal story of looking for love in all the wrong places. She had been married for all of her adult life. The death of her husband left her feeling lost and alone. She met a man online and ultimately lost thousands of dollars trying to keep the relationship going, even sending money to his “children.” A sad story, but a perfect example of elder abuse with a romance scam. The final word: If it seems too good to be true…it’s too good to be true!