Beware of Secret Shopping Scam

Beware of Secret-Shopping Scam

FTC warns about the return of an old scheme

emails illustration caught with a fishing hook

The Federal Trade Commission is warning that an old scam involving fraudulent checks and shopping has again reared its head.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is warning consumers to watch out for the resurgence of a long-standing scam that combines fake checks with secret shopping.

“We’ve been hearing a lot about it lately,” Emma Fletcher of the FTC’s Division of Consumer and Business Education wrote in an online consumer advisory.

“Here’s how it starts. You get a check in the mail with a job offer as a secret shopper. You deposit the check and see the funds in your account a few days later, and the bank even tells you the check has cleared.

“Now you’re off to the store you’ve been asked to shop at and report back on, often a Walmart. Your first assignment is to test the in-store money transfer service, like Western Union or MoneyGram, by sending some of the money you deposited. Or you might be told to use the money to buy reloadable cards or gift cards, such as iTunes cards. You’re instructed to send pictures of the cards or to give the numbers on the cards.

“Fast-forward days or weeks to the unhappy ending. The bank finds out the check you deposited is a fake, which means you’re on the hook for all that money.

Banks make money available from deposited checks in a few days, but a fake check can take weeks to be discovered. “By the time you try to get the money back from the money transfer service, the scammers are long gone, and they’ve taken all the money off the gift cards, too,” Fletcher advised.

The lesson: “If anyone ever asks you to deposit a check and then wire or send money in any way, you can bet it’s a scam.”

Reprinted from AARP

 

How to Get Rid of Junk Mail and Telemarketing Calls for Good.

How to Get Rid of Junk Mail and Telemarketing Calls for Good

As a child, I used to get so excited when I received something in the mail. Maybe it was because the only time I would get mail was either around my birthday or Christmas and it usually contained a check from my grandmother. Now, as an adult, my relationship with mail is quite the opposite. The only correspondence I receive is either bills or junk, neither of which I look forward to receiving.

While there is not much anyone can do to eliminate their bills, there are a few things you can do to get rid of junk mail. In fact, scams and spam seem to be on the rise via most methods of communication these days. Taking steps to declutter your mailbox and protect your phone number(s) can greatly minimize your frustration and reduce your vulnerability to fraud and identity theft.

How to Opt Out of Junk Mail

The first step toward eliminating a large portion of one’s junk mail is to participate in the DMAchoice program from the Data & Marketing Association (DMA). This program was created to give you control over what mail you receive and help the DMA’s more than 3,600 members avoid mailing to uninterested customers.

The categories of mail you may opt out of receiving include credit card offers, catalogs, magazine offers (such as subscription offers, newsletters, periodicals and other promotional mailings), donation requests, bank offers, retail promotions and more. You can choose to opt out of specific direct mail categories like the ones above or all of them. Once registered, the DMA forwards your preferences to the appropriate members.

To register, visit www.dmachoice.org and enter your information. There is a $2 fee to register online, but this registration lasts for 10 years. Caregivers also have the option to register on behalf of their care recipients to prevent them from receiving junk mail as well. Just visit the DMA website’s Do Not Contact for Caretakers page and follow the instructions. There is no cost for removing a vulnerable senior from the DMA’s databases.

Cancelling Pre-Approved Credit Offers

In the same way that DMAchoice works with member organizations to streamline marketing and promote consumer satisfaction, the OptOutPrescreen program works directly with the credit bureaus Experian, Equifax, TransUnion and Innovis to allow consumers to opt out of pre-approved and pre-screened credit and insurance offers.

To register for the program, visit OptOutPrescreen.com or call 888-567-8688. If you register online or by telephone, your registration is valid for five years. To opt out permanently, you will need to print, sign and mail back a permanent opt out election form. This form will be emailed to you when you register online or be mailed to you if you register by telephone.

Doing Away with Unsolicited Mail

In order to opt out of generic mail (the type that says “Dear Occupant” or “Current Resident”), you must directly contact the organization that sent you the solicitation. If you’d like to send a written request, provide your name and mailing address and state clearly that you wish to opt out from receiving future mail.

“Junk” Can Overwhelm Your Phone, Too

While junk mail is a nuisance that can literally pile up, unsolicited telephone calls can be equally as annoying but even more dangerous. Scammers will often call pretending to be from a legitimate organization in an attempt to get you to send them money or share your sensitive financial or identifying information.

One common scam is where the caller pretends to be from the IRS. He or she states that you owe money and if you do not pay within a certain timeframe you will be arrested. They use fear and intimidation to get the victim to do what they want.

But how can you tell which calls are legitimate and which are scams? It is often difficult to make that determination based on the call alone. One way to reduce, if not eliminate, legitimate solicitation calls is to register both your home and cell phone numbers on the Federal Trade Commission’s national Do Not Call Registry. Once you have registered, solicitors are prohibited from contacting you.

However, this does not apply to organizations with which you currently conduct business (known as established business relationships or “ERBs”) or tax-exempt organizations. You will still receive calls from entities you have given permission to contact you, like your bank, charities soliciting donations and—everyone’s favorite—political calls.

To register for this free service, call 1-888-382-1222 from the telephone number you wish to register. You can also register online at www.donotcall.gov. Keep in mind that this registration does not expire, so there is no need to ever re-register.

Telemarketers have 31 days from your registration date to remove your information from their call list and cease contact. If you receive a call after this 31-day period, notify the caller that you are on the national Do Not Call Registry and ask to be removed from their contact list. If they continue to call you, then you can report them online at the FTC’s complaint website. By law, organizations that are not tax exempt must remove a consumer’s contact information from their call list upon request.

This will not eliminate all calls, but it will greatly reduce the number of legitimate, unsolicited calls. You should be wary of whatever calls continue to come in from unknown sources. Here are a few indications that you’re talking to a scammer on the phone:

  • Caller is asking you to provide sensitive information
  • Caller is threatening or bullying you
  • Caller demands money, especially in the form of a money order
  • Caller refuses to remove your information from their call list
  • Caller claims to be from the IRS or another “official source” and demands money or sensitive information
  • Caller threatens your arrest if you do not comply

Also, don’t be fooled by what appears on your caller ID. Caller ID can easily be manipulated using free online tools. This process is called “spoofing.” I could call you and have the caller ID read “IRS” or “police station.” It really is just that simple.

Read: Fake Caller ID: Don’t Fall for Spoofing Scams

If you are in doubt when you receive an unsolicited telephone call, simply hang up the phone. If you get a call from someone claiming to be from your bank or credit card company, hang up and call the official telephone number printed on your bank statement or the number printed on the back of your credit card. If they claim to be from the IRS, you can visit the IRS website (www.irs.gov), and call them at the telephone number listed there. You get the idea. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Tackling Unwanted Text Messages

If you receive spam-type text messages on your cell phone, you can typically report it to your carrier by forwarding the text message to 7726. This works for AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint and Bell customers. They will then add this to their identified spam messages list and attempt to block the sending number. This process is similar to identifying an unsolicited email as spam or junk mail. Once you have labeled it as such, your email provider will block future emails from that sender from getting into your inbox.

The same handling rules for spam emails apply for text messages as well. Don’t reply to the sender, click on any links in the messages or provide any personal information. Legitimate businesses will not ask for your account or login information via text. The next safest thing after reporting the message to your carrier is to delete it immediately.

While you may not be able to block all potential frauds and scams, these tools will help you to eliminate most legitimate solicitors, making it easier for you to identify the remnants as fraudsters and scammers. At that point, you can simply toss the mail, hang up the telephone or delete the text

Reprinted from AgingCare.com

 

5 Ways to Lose Weight after 50

5 Key Ways to Lose Weight After 50
Why it gets harder to drop pounds after a certain age — and how to do it successfully
by Hallie Levine, AARP, May 9, 2018

There’s plenty you can do to take control of your weight as you get older.

Whether you’ve battled the bulge for what seems like forever — or just since your last birthday — it’s true that age can have a lot to do with the number on the scale. As with crow’s-feet and varicose veins, you’re simply more susceptible to gaining weight once you hit the big 5-0. And it’s not your imagination: It also becomes increasingly more challenging to shed those pounds once they’ve settled around your hips.

“The two big reasons people tend to gain weight as they get older are loss of muscle mass and decreased activity,” explains Caroline Apovian, M.D., a weight-loss specialist at Boston University Medical Center. People experience a 5 to 10 percent loss of muscle mass each decade after age 50, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. As a result, your resting metabolic rate declines by an average of 2 to 3 percent every decade.

And this means you can be eating the exact same amount that you did at 40 — not a morsel more — and still gain weight.

Becoming more sedentary with age can also skew the equation, especially if you begin to develop arthritis or other joint issues that restrict activity. “As we get older, we spend less time running around and physical activity decreases,” Apovian points out. “But as you get older, if you don’t use your muscles, you’ll lose them.”

And while these facts are sobering, there’s plenty you can do to take control. “You’re not doomed to failure! I’m 60, and I have more muscle on my body than I did when I was 30,” Apovian says with pride.

It’s true that few of us may have the time or energy to follow Apovian’s grueling workout schedule (she rises at 5 a.m. most days to either swim for an hour or run six miles on her treadmill), but we can follow her advice, as well as that of other leading obesity specialists, on how to fit into our jeans once we enter our sixth decade and beyond.

Pile on the protein
“Protein supplementation can help build back muscle mass, which reverses the decline in metabolism,” explains Apovian. She recommends making sure that between 30 and 40 percent of your daily calories come from protein, depending on your body weight. (Imagine a lean piece of meat or fish taking up one third of your plate, and you get the idea.) By contrast, the average American gets about 16 percent of his or her food intake from protein, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

You’ll also build more muscle if you spread your protein intake out evenly throughout the day. A 2017 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that consuming an equal amount of protein at all three meals is linked to more muscle strength in people over age 67. To even out your intake, try adding an egg or yogurt to your breakfast, a glass of milk or a handful of nuts to your lunch, and scaling back on your protein source at dinner.

Join the resistance
While any sort of exercise can help you shed girth, it’s very important that you lift weights at least twice a week to build muscle mass, which will help you lose weight. In one study, 60-something overweight adults who pumped iron lost more weight and lost less muscle mass over 18 months than those who just hoofed it for exercise. “Any sort of opportunity to build muscle — even if it’s just working with light resistance bands or swimming in a pool — will raise your metabolism and, thus, help you burn calories,” explains Reshmi Srinath, M.D., an endocrinologist and obesity specialist at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City.

And keep in mind that you don’t have to do much to see results. People who lifted weights just twice a week gained about three pounds of muscle after 10 weeks, according to a review published in Current Sports Medicine Reports.

Beyond strength training, if you can take your overall exercise program up a notch, do so. Older adults who did high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which entails short spurts of high-intensity exercise, not only lost weight but also had less DNA damage to muscle cells. And this helped trigger growth of new muscle.

Get enough shut-eye
“Research has consistently shown that people who are overweight or obese get less sleep than those of normal weight,” stresses Apovian. “When you’re sleep deprived, your body ramps up its production of hormones that increase hunger, like the stress hormone cortisol and the appetite stimulating hormone ghrelin.” Older men (over age 67) who get less than five hours of sleep a night are almost four times as likely to be obese as those who get between seven and eight, and older women are more than twice as likely, according to a Case Western Reserve University study.

It’s also a good idea to keep your sleep schedule consistent, meaning you get up and go to bed at roughly the same time every day. Older men and women who don’t follow this healthy habit add another risk factor for being obese into the mix, according to a study published in the International Journal of Obesity.

Try occasional fasting
We’re not talking juice cleanses. Rather, research now shows that a specific type of intermittent fasting, known as fasting-mimicking, can trigger weight loss as well as improve your overall health. People who followed this type of diet plan — where they consumed only 750 to 1,000 calories five days out of each month but otherwise ate normally — lost, on average, six pounds, shed one to two inches of their waistline, and saw both their blood pressure and levels of IGF-1 (a substance linked to increased cancer risk) drop significantly, according to a University of Southern California study published last year.

How might it work? “When you gain weight, the nerves in your hypothalamus that conduct signals from your fat cells to the rest of your brain become damaged,” says Louis Aronne, M.D., director of the Center for Weight Management and Metabolic Clinical Research at Weill Cornell Medical College. “As a result, your brain doesn’t realize that you’re full, so it keeps signaling you to eat.”

But when you take a day to not eat very much, he says, “you’re reducing stress on your hypothalamic nerves, so it gives them time to recuperate.” That day of rest for your nerves could be especially important for older people, he says, because of the damage that oxidative stress can further do to your weight-regulating system.

As for how to start, “I tell patients who want to try it to eat only about 800 calories twice a week, focusing mainly on vegetables, protein and healthy oils such as olive oil,” he says.

To help yourself feel fuller longer on days you’re not fasting, Aronne recommends following a low-carb diet in which about 30 percent of your calories come from protein and the rest from nonstarchy veggies, nuts and beans. Craving bread? “I tell patients that the best time to eat these types of starchy carbohydrates is at the very end of the meal, after they’ve had their veggies and protein,” he says. Aronne’s research shows that people who eat this way not only have lower levels of blood sugar and insulin after eating but also have bigger boosts in hormones like GLP 1, which help keep you feeling fuller for longer.

Practice mindful eating
If you think your weight gain may have something to do with midlife stress (aging parents, college tuition bills and managerial responsibilities at work, anyone?), this approach may be especially helpful to have in your weight-loss toolbox. “A lot of times eating, especially mindless eating, can be stress related, and meditation techniques can be helpful in terms of both alleviating anxiety and making you more conscious of how much you’re consuming,” explains Apovian.

People who practice this technique — which involves paying attention to how hungry or full you feel, planning meals and snacks, eating as a singular activity (without, say, also reading the paper or watching TV), and zeroing in on how your food really tastes — may be more successful at weight loss. People who participated in an online mindfulness-based weight-loss program, for instance, lost more weight (on average, about 4.2 pounds) than a control group, according to a North Carolina State University study presented last year at the European Congress on Obesity.

Need some tips to get you started? Eat slowly (put your fork down between bites, and chew your food well), try to have meals without any outside distractions, and follow the one-bite rule when it comes to favorite but fattening foods like desserts.

Reprinted from AARP.

No Winners in Prize Scams

There are plenty of reputable contests and sweepstakes out there (including some from AARP), and let’s be honest, winning feels great! However, there are questionable characters out there who are trying to hook you on winning to reel in the profits for themselves.

How it Works

You’re told you’ve won a prize but:

  • You have to pay a fee to collect your winnings;
  • You have to wire money to a well-known company to insure delivery of the prize;
  • You have to deposit a check they have sent you;
  • Your notice was mailed by bulk rate;
  • You have to attend a sales meeting to win.

What You Should Know:

  • You cannot win a contest you did not enter. Don’t believe claims saying that you were automatically entered.
  • Playing a foreign lottery is illegal. If you’re told that your name was entered in a foreign lottery, know it is a scam.
  • Remember- if you have to pay to receive it, it’s not a prize. It’s a scam!

What You Should Do:

  • Be vigilant. The Federal Trade Commission recommends looking up a contest or promoter in a search engine with the words “scam” or “complaint”.
  • Warn others. If you think you’ve been targeted by a prize scam, report it at www.ftc.gov/complaint and share on the Fraud Watch Network scam-tracking map.
  • Report spam texts that offer gifts, gift cards, or free services to your carrier, then delete the message

Medicare Card Scam

New AARP survey finds most beneficiaries unaware of redesigned card initiative

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Sixty percent of those surveyed mistakenly believe they might have to pay for the revamped Medicare ID cards, making them vulnerable to scammers.

According to a new AARP survey, more than three-quarters of Americans over age 65 know little or nothing about the federal government’s initiative to replace their Medicare cards. And that makes them susceptible to scammers intent on taking advantage of the confusion.

Individuals new to Medicare are receiving the updated card, which displays a unique combination of 11 letters and numbers rather than a beneficiary’s Social Security number (SSN). Current beneficiaries will begin receiving their replacement cards next month.

AARP found that 60 percent of those surveyed mistakenly believe they might have to pay for the revamped cards. The new cards are free. And more than half of respondents said they might not be suspicious if they received a call — supposedly from Medicare — asking them to verify their SSNs as a prerequisite to getting a new card. Medicare officials have emphasized that they will never call beneficiaries about the cards, which are being mailed out by the Social Security Administration.

“The new Medicare cards are a step forward for fraud prevention, but con artists are working overtime on new ways to scam seniors,” says Nancy LeaMond, AARP’s chief advocacy and engagement officer.

Scammers posing as Medicare representatives have already been calling beneficiaries demanding a processing fee. Other fraudsters are telling beneficiaries that they are owed a refund from transactions on their old card and then asking for bank account information to process the reimbursement. Medicare will never ask an enrollee for a bank account number, and no refunds are owed.

AARP’s telephone survey reached 800 respondents and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent.

AARP’s Fraud Watch Network provides more prevention tips and advice on card-replacement and other types of scams. Consumers can also sign up for “Watchdog Alert” emails to get regular updates on new scams.

No Talk Phone Scams

Most telephone scammers rely on talk, getting you to pick up the phone so they can give their impersonations of IRS agents, noble fundraisers, tech-support saviors or grandkids in need. But with a new breed of telephone fraudsters, sometimes you don’t even need to say “Hello” to get ripped off. Here’s how some of these crooks may target you.

Call Center Fraud

There are scam artists who spend hours calling the customer service centers of banks, insurance companies and other institutions, posing as people like you, to try to access accounts. These crimes have more than doubled in the past year. “That’s because reps only ask a couple of simple authentication questions — maybe your mother’s maiden name or your Social Security number — before you can transfer money or do whatever,” explains Ken Shuman of Pindrop, a company that provides antifraud services to call centers.

Scammers start by assembling information on you, stolen in data breaches, purchased on the “dark web” or gleaned with a simple Google search. Then, working from boiler rooms (often overseas), they spend all day phoning different call centers to determine if you have accounts with those companies. With your data in hand, they can often answer the authentication questions that call centers ask.

ATM PINs are especially prized — and vulnerable, adds Shuman. He notes that there are only 10,000 possible combinations for a four-digit PIN. Unless a bank’s system blocks calls after several tries — and some don’t — there are scammers who call back 150 times a day, trying different PINs until they get it right. Then they immediately log in as you, change your PIN and take over your account.

Smartphone Swindles

An ever-growing segment of the 20 billion text messages sent each day are attempts at defrauding people through “smishing” (a word that combines the SMS technology that sends text messages and phishing, a ploy to coax confidential information out of you). Typically, a scam texter will fake a problem with one of your financial accounts and ask you for data. Or they might pitch low-cost mortgages or credit cards, or promise free gift cards. If you respond by texting back confidential personal information, your identity may be stolen. Millions of these smishing texts can be launched simultaneously.

Your best defense is to be stingy with your phone number. Scam texts may result if you provide it to contests, say, or businesses. Mobile apps can also be to blame. When you install them, the fine print in the user agreement may grant permission to the app’s developer to use or sell your phone number and sometimes even the numbers of your contacts. In one recently popular scheme, scammers get your contacts from mobile apps, then text you posing as people you know to seek money or ID-theft-worthy information, says Jonathan Sasse, marketing executive at First Orion, a digital security firm that provides the mobile app PrivacyStar.

One more important tip: Never follow a text’s instructions to push a designated key to opt out of future messages. Instead, forward the questionable text to short code 7726, so cellphone carrierscan block that sender. You can further bolster defenses against mobile scams — which have quadrupled in the past two years — with call-blocking apps such as Hiya, Truecaller, NoMoRobo and PrivacyStar.

Curiosity Cons

Knowing that you are likely to ignore unrecognized or private numbers on caller ID, today’s crooks use software that allows them to display fake numbers that are hard to resist. Here are some variations.

  • The neighbor ploy Your area code and prefix are displayed, so the call appears to be from a neighbor or nearby business. “Fewer people are comfortable blocking local numbers, increasing scammers’ success rates,” notes Jonathan Nelson of Hiya. And the fake number makes it hard for law enforcement to track.
  • The “Hey, there’s a call from my own phone number” scam It’s hard to resist answering a call from your own number, which scammers can simulate. And they are able to get around any call blocking that you’ve set up.
  • The one-ring rip-off Criminals sometimes program auto-dialers to make repeated calls to you, each disconnecting after just one ring. They know this might spur you into calling back the displayed number to complain. There’s double trouble if you call area codes such as 268, 664 and 876. These are for Caribbean countries and other places that have high per-minute phone charges. One scam involves getting you to call one of those numbers, then getting you to hold through transfers that rack up your bill until a scammer gets on the line and starts a fraudulent pitch.

Reprinted from AARP Fraud Network.

 

Social Security Scam

Scammers are now going to the federal Social Security website and setting up a “my Social Security” account of citizens that are of retirement age. They hijack their accounts by setting up the accounts before the Social Security number owner does, and then they apply for funds. The scammers get a lump sum money of back pay out and the money is transferred to an account the scammers set up and then they take that money and immediately put it on gift cards. Beat scammers to the punch by setting up your own “my Social Security” account today at www.ssa.gov/myaccount.

Report scams to local law enforcement. Contact the AARP Fraud Watch Network at www.aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork for more information on fraud prevention. #Fraudwatch AARP Maine

my Social Security | Open a my Social Security account today and rest easy knowing that you’re in control of your future.
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IRS Unveils “Dirty Dozen” Tax Scams

The Internal Revenue Service released its annual list of the top 12 scams, which inludes frauds committed by con artists and taxpayers alike.

As tax season reaches its peak, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has issued its annual list of “Dirty Dozen” tax scams.

Some of the frauds on the government’s list are examples of how taxpayers are being preyed upon, such as email phishing attempts or identity theft. Others are ways Americans are cheating on their returns, such as inflating refund claims or padding deductions.

“Taxpayers need to guard against ploys to steal their personal information,” the IRS says in a statement announcing the list. “And they should be wary of shady promoters trying to scam them out of money or talk them into engaging in questionable tax schemes.”

Although scamming is most popular as tax day — April 17 this year — approaches, the IRS advises taxpayers to be on the lookout throughout the year.

Hiya Inc., which monitors phone scamming, says on its blog that “from calls threatening to take legal action, sending arrest warrants, filing lawsuits, and requesting financial and personal information, Hiya still sees the oldest tricks in the book trending in 2018.”

Here are the Dirty Dozen list’s scams against taxpayers:

  • Phishing: You should watch for potential fake emails or websites seeking personal information. The IRS will never send you an email about a bill or tax refund. Don’t click on a message claiming to be from the IRS.
  • Phone Scams: Scammers who impersonate IRS agents are an ongoing threat. Some con artists who use this ploy have threatened taxpayers with deportation, arrest and revocation of their licenses if they fail to follow the scammers’ instructions.
  • Identity Theft: You should guard against possible identity theft. While the IRS has worked to better detect tax-return related identity theft, it reminds taxpayers that they can help in preventing this crime by protecting their personal data.
  • Tax-Return Preparer Fraud: Watch out for unscrupulous tax-return preparers. The vast majority of tax professionals are honest. But some dishonest preparers scam clients, perpetuating refund fraud, identity theft and other scams that hurt taxpayers.
  • Fake Charities: Groups posing as charitable organizations solicit donations. Some of these groups use names similar to nationally known organizations to deceive consumers. The status of charities can be checked using tools found at IRS.gov.
  • Inflated Refund Claims: Taxpayers should be wary of anyone promising inflated refunds. If a tax preparer asks you to sign a blank return, promises you a big refund before looking at your records, or charges fees based on a percentage of your refund, they are probably up to no good.

The Dirty Dozen list also includes these ways taxpayers are cheating the IRS, sometimes with a little help from con artists:

  • Excessive Claims for Business Credits: Don’t improperly claim the fuel tax credit. Taxpayers also should avoid misuse of the research credit. The IRS tends to closely scrutinize the use of these credits.
  • Padding Deductions: You should avoid the temptation to illegally inflate deductions like charitable gifts.
  • Falsifying Income to Claim Credits: Con artists may persuade unsuspecting taxpayers to invent income to wrongly qualify for tax credits, like the Earned Income Tax Credit.
  • Frivolous Tax Arguments: Some schemes urge taxpayers to make unreasonable and outlandish claims. Those who file a frivolous tax return face a possible penalty of $5,000.
  • Phony Tax Shelters: The IRS says it is committed to cracking down on complex tax-avoidance schemes and the people who create and sell them. Be on the lookout for fraudsters promoting tax shelters that sound too good to be true.
  • Offshore Tax Avoidance: It’s a bad bet to hide money and income in offshore accounts because the IRS has had lots of success in thwarting these schemes.

reprinted from AARP Fraud Network

More Effective Shingles Vaccine Now Available

The new shingles vaccine recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for people 50 and older is now widely available in pharmacies and with physicians.

Testing found that Shingrix, which received Food and Drug Administration approval last fall, was 97 percent effective in adults 50 to 69 and 91 percent effective in those 70 and older. Those are far better results than provided by the previous vaccine, Zostavax, which was recommended for people 60 and up.

CVS announced this week that Shingrix is available in its stores nationwide, making it the latest of major chain pharmacies — including Walgreens, Duane Reed, Walmart and Albertsons — to have it.  It has been available to doctors since late November, but patients should check with their own physicians to determine whether they can get the shots there.

Shingrix is taken in two doses separated by two to six months. Zostavax, the previously recommended vaccine, was a one-shot dose. The CDC says even those who have received a Zostavax shot should get the new drug, as should those who have had shingles.

The CDC estimates that for every 1 million people 60 to 69 years old who receive Shingrix, there will be 87,000 fewer cases of shingles, as well as 10,000 fewer cases of postherpetic neuralgia (severe pain in the location of a previous shingles rash). The vaccine is also projected to lead to 80,000 fewer cases of shingles among people 50 to 59 years old, with 5,000 fewer cases of postherpetic neuralgia.

In addition to checking with individual pharmacies and physicians about the availability of the vaccine, those of eligible age should check with health insurance providers to see whether the shots are covered. Medicare Part D covers Shingrix, but Medicare Part B does not.

Sweetheart Scam : the wolf in sheep’s clothing

We have all heard different versions of how a well-educated, respectable member of the community was somehow duped into sending large quantities of money to a complete stranger. Sometimes the person in the story has even lost their entire life savings. At first, we are shocked and dismayed, but then we pause and think to ourselves, “That could never happen to me!”

The Sweetheart Scam is one of the most widely utilized modes of preying upon a victim for financial gain. It’s a scheme that can be perpetrated online or in person. The scammer convinces their victim that they are in love and uses these emotions to bilk money from the unsuspecting person—oftentimes a lonely senior. This is all brilliantly orchestrated, like a maestro conducting a symphony.

People often wonder how someone could be so foolish as to get involved with a stranger and send them money. Although almost any age group can be lured into this game of deceit, the number one target of sweetheart scams is usually men and women over age 40; the older the better. Seniors—especially widows, widowers and recent divorcees—are particularly vulnerable to this manipulation of the heart. And it is not gender specific either; both men and women are equally victimized.

John Joyce, former Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Secret Service Tampa Field Office is no stranger to investigating internet scams. “With most internet scams, including the sweetheart scam, it is difficult to identify the perpetrators due to the fact that they are usually conducting their business from outside of the United States,” he says. “Cooperation from foreign governments is often spotty or non-existent. These investigations usually do not result in the capture of the scammer or the recovery of monies. In most cases, the victim’s best option is to break off communication with the scammer as soon as possible and cut their losses.”

How The Sweetheart Scam Works

It’s important to understand how the sweetheart scam works so you can defend yourself against it and help others do the same. Love, or more accurately the illusion of love, is the key factor in fulfilling the sweetheart scam.

“We do a lot of work investigating various types of scams from the internet. Unfortunately, it is very common,” Joyce explains. “Essentially the victim meets a scammer on a singles or dating website who poses as a person also looking for a relationship online. They chat over the internet and exchange photos. The scammer typically sends photographs of a very good-looking woman or man, depending who their target is. The victim thinks they have developed a relationship and over time falls in love. Eventually the scammer comes up with a story about how he/she has a major problem in their life which requires an outlay of money. The victim, feeling the need to help their new-found love, ends up wiring money over and over again to this person, in some cases until they are bilked out of all their money. Since the scammers are usually corresponding with the victim outside of the United States, it is close to impossible for U.S. authorities to identify or prosecute them. Once the scammer has achieved their financial goal, they will drop the unsuspecting victim and disappear. Most victims are astonished when they realize that these deceptive individuals are adept at manipulating human emotions to get what they want.”

10 Tips for Spotting and Avoiding Scams

Anyone can be scammed by a supposed sweetheart. But, according to law enforcement authorities, including local police departments, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Secret Service, there are steps one can take to avoid falling victim to a sweetheart scam.

  1. Be on your guard. Try to look beyond the superficial. Whether you are interacting with people online or in person at a senior center, restaurant, grocery store or the post office, make a point of keeping your wits about you. Unfortunately, deception comes in all shapes and sizes and takes place in a variety of settings.
  2. Be honest with yourself. Look in the mirror and ask yourself the million-dollar question: “Why would a much younger individual want anything to do with me?” What is this person getting out of a relationship with you? If you discover anything pertaining to money in your answer, you know you are headed for trouble.
  3. Never transfer or wire money to anyone. This is especially important if you’re communicating with a stranger living overseas whom you’ve never met in person.
  4. Keep in touch with family. Share your new social interests and friendships with them. Your loved ones usually have your best interest in mind and can be trusted to provide honest advice and guidance.
  5. Consult a professional if an online relationship seems fishy. Law enforcement agents are experienced with sweetheart scams, especially since the usage of social media, such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, has increased. If you have an inkling that something isn’t quite right with a new acquaintance, contact a professional for a second opinion.
  6. Do your homework. Nowadays, many people have left permanent digital footprints that even minimally tech-savvy individuals can find. Use Google to search for additional information on new individuals you meet and cross check the information they’ve told you about themselves. Even if things appear to match up, don’t assume they’re telling you the truth. Scammers often go to great lengths to pose as another person or create a believable online presence that backs up their phony story.
  7. Limit your use of social media. Scammers steal personal information online and utilize people’s social media profiles to learn more about them, their routines, vulnerabilities, likes and dislikes. They then use this information to tailor their manipulative approach to appeal to a person’s specific interests and weaknesses. Some scammers even monitor potential victims’ news feeds for information on friends and relatives they can pose as.
  8. Pursue relationships face-to-face. Avoid online dating if at all possible.
  9. Don’t feel ashamed. Although getting defrauded is embarrassing, understand that seasoned scammers have learned how to be very convincing so they can make a good living from deceiving people. If you or someone you know falls victim to a scam, report it as soon as possible to local law enforcement or the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) website.
  10. Use common sense. This goes for any interactions with strangers, both online and in person. If something seems too good to be true, it usually is.

Reprinted from AgingCare.com