Facebook Messenger Scam: Fake Friend, Real Money

How to protect yourself from cloned profiles

Facebook.com homepage on the screen showing unread friend request, unread likes and more.

| Reconnecting with an old friend on Facebook who turned her on to a government grant promising thousands of dollars led Linda Lee on a wild-goose chase that resulted in the loss of her emergency savings fund.

“If you pay $500 you get 30,000. If you pay 950, which is what I did, you get 50,000,” says Lee, 65, of San Luis Obispo, California. “This girlfriend said she got 80,000 and sent me a picture of the cash, not with her in it, of course.”

The friend urgently encouraged Lee to apply to a program called the International Financial Corporation Grant. She was then assigned to agent “Richard Harrison,” and promptly received an application from the Office of the Attorney General. “Later on that night, after I knew I’d been rooked, I went back through Facebook, found her page and messaged her,” says Lee.

Turns out her friend’s profile had been cloned by a scammer duplicating her name, pictures and information. When Lee went to message her friend, she saw two threads, which indicated there were two profiles. One was fake.

Scams originating on Facebook appear to be growing

Scams through Facebook’s Messenger platform are being reported to AARP’s fraud help line at higher rates than ever before, says Amy Nofziger, director of AARP’s Fraud Victim Support Network.

The government is also seeing an increase in such behavior. In 2018, impostor scams were the most common complaint reported to the Federal Trade Commission by consumers. The agency said government impostor scams reached a record high, based on data from January through May of this year.

How to Stay Safe on Facebook

  • Do not “friend” strangers.
  • Do not click on unsolicited links, and report suspicious requests.
  • Do not pay for anything with gift cards.
  • Do not engage with any government agency or bank through Facebook.
  • Avoid people or accounts directing you to a page to claim a prize.
  • When talking to a new Facebook friend, call the friend offline to make sure you’re communicating with your actual friend.
  • Report any impostor accounts to Facebook.
  • Check out the Baby Boomers’ Guide to Facebook.
  • Review this video about detecting and reporting scams.

“The federal government does not offer grants or ‘free money’ to individuals to start a business or cover personal expenses,” it said in a statement. “The government does offer federal benefit programs designed to help individuals and families in need become self-sufficient or lower their expenses.”

Nofziger says the scammers create fake profiles using photos of another person to develop friendships or relationships. “The one thing about the clones is that if you get a friend request from someone that you already thought was your friend, do your due diligence and find out why,” she says.

Lee communicated with her friend’s fake profile throughout the time she was being victimized. “It’s almost like they were sitting side by side,” she says. “One’s playing me on Messenger and the other is texting me.”

Lee’s first $950 loss was for a “tax clearance fee” that was to be “refunded immediately” once the money was delivered. She was warned to keep her grant news a secret until she got the money. “Don’t tell anyone at the store nor a friend so as not the alert the IRS.”

The currency the scammers wanted was not U.S. dollars, but iTunes gift cards. They told her that her friend had already paid with one.

Then the scammers asked her for a second fee, this time $350. That’s when Lee became suspicious. The scammers said that the van that was to deliver her grant money had been stopped by IRS officers and that the $350 would pay for an IRS certificate to ensure delivery to the “lawful owner.”

“This does not happen very often ma’am. I’m so sorry the UPS department does not add the IRS fee to their money because they turned it unnecessary. I know what may be going through your mind right now. But I assure you, after this payment to the IRS, your money will surely get to you,” they texted.

“I’m sorry, tapped out. No more money. You’re pulling my leg,” Lee replied.

“Trust me ma’am, we can’t cancel the delivery. You will be refunded,” the scammers messaged.

“No more money for you,” Lee answered. “It’s a scam. You duped me. Your driver got stopped, not true. No driver. No cash at 8pm. You’re not real.”

In total Lee lost $1,450, all of her emergency savings, which was a lot of money for a small-business owner out of work on disability leave.

Lee got in touch with the Los Angeles FBI office, which sent her to an online fraud form. Then she called AARP.

“If I had read my AARP a little quicker I might have not fallen for it. And I should know better,” she says. “I got over it pretty quick because I knew I was scammed. I just kept my mouth shut and only told three people because I’m too embarrassed. And I know they’d be going, ‘Linda, come on, really? You’re an idiot.’ “

Lee says some of the responsibility should be placed on retailers to warn people at the store of the potential costs of putting such high dollar amounts on these cards. Scammers warn their victims not to tell anyone, including cashiers, why they are buying the cards.

Gift cards are the “currency of fraud,” says Nofziger. “Anybody that asks you to pay in a gift card for any of these things is a scam.”

In response to Lee’s experience, a Facebook spokesperson told AARP, “We’ve invested heavily in strengthening our technology to keep scammers off Facebook and remove these accounts when we discover them.…We encourage people to not accept suspicious requests and to report suspicious messages to us right away so we can take action.”

The platform says that it “works with law enforcement, including the FBI, to help find and prosecute the scammers who conduct these activities.”

Since Lee’s experience ended, she has received numerous calls and voicemails from unfamiliar numbers. “The person she sent the iTunes gift cards to, in their mind, they feel like they could victimize her again,” Nofziger says. “We do know that selling lead lists is big business in the scam world.”

Adults in the U.S. age 50 and older use Facebook more than any other social media platform. The share of older Americans who use it has more than doubled since August 2012, according to the Pew Research Center.

As of June 2019, Facebook had 2.41 billion monthly active users, 5 percent of those being fake accounts, according to the social media site.

Reprinted from AARP Fraud Watch Network

Benefits of Senior Bike Riding

Benefits of Senior Bike Riding

1. It is a low impact, low-stress exercise

When you cycle, your body moves in smooth motions that don’t put any undue stress on your body. Some commonly recommended exercises for seniors, like jogging, for example, are high impact and over time they damage different parts of the body. As you jog you put a lot of strain on your knees and your ankles as well as your feet. When you cycle, the circular movements that propel you forward don’t strain the body in any way. Translation? You can cycle for years to come without harming your body.

2. Cycling for seniors and weight loss

Weight gain is a big problem among seniors; they are no longer as active as they used to be, and they go on to gain weight which can lead to health problems like diabetes and heart disease.

Cycling is one good way to stay active and keep the weight off. Each time you get on a bicycle and cycle you burn calories. As you get more familiar with cycling and are able to cover longer distances you lose even more weight.

Combining cycling with another low impact exercise like swimming is a perfect way to stay in shape for anyone in their senior years.

3. Cycling is great for your heart

Stroke, heart disease and heart attacks are the most common cause of death for seniors. Cycling is a great way to keep these chronic ailments at bay. Riding a bicycle is a great way to increase your heart’s capacity. Your body needs more oxygen to keep you going, forcing your heart to pump harder in order to keep cells properly oxygenated so that they can release the energy needed to help you keep going. As you become a better cyclist your heart becomes even stronger and reduces the odds that you will suffer a heart-related aliment.

4. It is also great for memory

Bikes for seniors are great for those worried about memory loss, or more chronic conditions like Alzheimer’s and dementia. When you cycle, your body works at maximum capacity, ensuring that the brain is fully oxygenated which stimulates the part of your brain that’s responsible for memory, the hippocampus.

Cycling is recommended for people who want to stave off memory-related illnesses as well as those in the early stages. It is also a healthy exercise for those recovering from stroke or heart attack.

5. Good way to reduce the risk of cancer

One of the leading causes of cancer is obesity. According to a recent survey by the World Health Organization, obesity has now overtaken smoking as a leading cause of common cancers.

When you cycle you lose weight, which means that your risk of developing cancer is reduced.

Bike riding for seniors

6. Riding is a great way to exercise with fellow seniors

Research has proved that seniors who have an active social life are healthier, happier and they live longer. Cycling is a great way to get together with your friends a few times a week and have some fun. It can be as simple as riding your cycles for a beer at the bar, enjoying the landscape or you can all come together and practice for an upcoming cycling event.

7. Cycling is good for your sex life

As we age we become less sexually active, not because we want to but because our bodies no longer produce the hormones that are required to keep us going sexually.

Bicycles for seniors can go a long way in helping you stay sexually active. According to experts, elderly men who cycle have about 25% more sex than those who don’t, and women are able to delay menopause by up to 5 years.

8. Great for body strength

A common problem that seniors face is loss of muscle tone which leads to loss of muscular strength. Muscular health is directly influenced by mitochondrial health which is directly influenced by regular exercise such as cycling. The more you cycle, the healthier your mitochondria, the healthier your cells, and the stronger your muscles.

If you want to remain strong in your elder years you should invest in a bicycle for elderly people.

9. Cycling will help you live longer

Benefits of Senior Bike Riding

This again goes back to mitochondria. Death occurs when there is so much mitochondrial damage in the cells that they can no longer sustain life. It can happen as a result of disease or because of old age. The different cellular components in the mitochondria cease to function as they get older and production of new ones ceases.

Cycling helps keep mitochondria healthy for longer which translates to a longer lifespan.

10. Cycling is fun

Are you bored since your retirement? Do you feel like you don’t have nearly enough to do, and that you don’t meet enough people? You can change that by buying a bike and using it frequently.

Boredom is a common complaint among seniors. They often feel like the world is moving along without them. There is no better way to get out there and be part of the action than on a bike. You will get to drink in the surrounding environment, meet new people and get an excellent workout every time you do it.

Bikes for Seniors: Do the Health Benefits outweigh potential risks?

Falls are a leading cause of health problems among seniors, hence the article written for the Huffington Post by Dr. Yaremchuk.

According to this article, there is an increasing number of elderly showing up at his practice for maxillofacial surgery for injuries received while out riding bicycles.

How much should you worry?

Think of this analogy: fruits are very healthy for the young and old alike. If more people start to show up at an ER as a result of choking on fruit, does that mean that fruit is a problem? Not really; the problem lies elsewhere. It could be with the way people are eating the fruit, where they are sourcing it from, how they are preparing it and so on.

The same logic applies to bikes for seniors. The danger is not the bike itself. Millions of seniors around the world cycle every day without falling and injuring themselves.

What is important is that you learn how to stay safe. Safe bicycle riding for elderly people is possible.

Tips for Safe Senior Bicycle Riding

  • Take your time to make sure that you are ready for the road

This is probably the most important senior cycling safety tip that there is out there. You may invest in a great bike and top quality safety equipment, but of you don’t take the time to prepare for your cycling time there are higher odds of an accident.

Make sure that your bike is ready and the brakes are working properly. Check your chain and your gears too.

  • Check your route before you head out

You may want to look at how much traffic there is on your planned route. If there are too many cars it may be wise to choose a quieter route, even if it’s a bit longer.

  • Keep in mind that your reflexes are slower now that you are older

You were once an expert cyclist who could avoid obstacles that suddenly appeared in front of you. Not anymore. While your mind and body may both be quite agile, they aren’t as fresh as they used to be, and your reaction times have slowed down somewhat.

You should ride at a speed that allows you to swerve and avoid obstacles in time.

  • Make sure you have the proper equipment

The most important piece of equipment for cycling is your helmet. Never try to ride without it. Knee and elbow pads are also important to reduce body damage in case of a fall. If you cycle in poor weather or after dark your bike should have reflective strips and you should have a reflective jacket.

  • Don’t try to keep up if you can’t

When riding with a younger crowd you may be tempted to go faster than you should to keep up with them. It may be good for your ego but bad for your health. The faster you ride, especially along busy roads, the higher the chances of an accident. Go at a pace that you’re comfortable with.

Benefits of Bike Riding for Seniors
  • Have a practice run on your bike before you take it out for the first time

Certain bicycles for seniors, such as electric bikes, are recommended, but that doesn’t mean that they are the best fit.

When you buy a new bike take some time and get a few practice runs in before you take it out on busy roads. The better you know your bike, the easier it is to control.

  • Choose your course wisely

You’ve been riding your new bike around town, and now you feel confident enough to take it out for a weekend trail hike.

A ride around town and one in the trails near your home may be completely different. The trail may have very steep gradients or may be so rough that falling is easy.

Seniors Bike riding

While trail cycling is fun, you should know the terrain before you go in. If it’s not suited to elderly riding it isn’t worth it.

  • Never cycle with earphones on

This is all the vogue these days and it has led to accidents that were entirely avoidable if only the cyclist were more aware of their surroundings.

Catching up on the news or listening to a podcast while riding your bike isn’t wise whether one is young or old. You cannot hear the traffic and other signals around you, and you will be distracted to some degree by what you are listening to.

  • Learn the proper hand signals for cyclists

These can save your life, so make sure you know them by heart. Also, before you turn into any road make sure that you stop, look left, look right and look left again to ensure there is no oncoming traffic.

  • If you have to stop get far off the road

If you need to stop you should make sure you get off the road completely where oncoming traffic can’t reach you (distracted drivers have been known to run over cyclists who stop too close to the road).

  • If you can, ride with another person

Remember we said that one of the benefits of riding for seniors is that they get to socialize? If you can, try to ride with someone else. Not only is it more fun, but you are also safer on the road.

Summary

Senior bike riding is perfectly safe and has many health benefits. It will help you lose weight, stay strong, avoid chronic illness, stay mentally alert and live longer.

There are some safety concerns regarding cycling for seniors, but they shouldn’t dissuade you. So long as you take the proper precautions every time you go out on your bike you will be safe. Categories Cycling TipsPost navigation Bicycle History & the Evolution, How to Remove Rust from Bike Chain

Reprinted from cyclingity

Choosing a Long Term Facility

Choosing a Long-Term Care Facility: Tips from a Certified Nursing Assistant

When you take a tour of a prospective assisted living facility, memory care unit or nursing home, your guide is likely to direct your attention to superficialities or things that are no longer relevant to your family member. This is especially true for a loved one who has declined physically or cognitively. (Smart TVs, anyone?)

On your first tour, they’ll want to show you their renovated patient bedrooms and their glitzy activities calendars. They will want you to see the art room and hear about the visiting music therapist. They’ll make sure you notice the flower bedecked reception area and the nicely appointed dining room. They might even cite the amount of training their aides receive. Of course, all these things are positives, but administrators of senior living communities may not encourage you to examine the nuts and bolts.

To make a true assessment of the standard of care a facility provides and the residents’ “joy” levels (yes, that’s what I said: JOY), you need to take some time to put in the work to investigate. You also need to use a more evidence-based method of assessing the quality of board and care your loved one will receive in a home that may cost anywhere from $4,000 to $12,000 each month.

So, what do you look for specifically to judge the quality of the facility? Below is a list of features that are essential for your family member’s happiness and physical wellbeing. Look for them. These are the minimum, no-frills tests that a prospective long-term care home should be able to pass.

Deal Breakers for Assessing Senior Living Care Quality

  1. The Wheelchair Test: Even if your loved one is still ambulatory, when you visit a home, take a good look at the footrests and frames of all the wheelchairs you see. Are they clean? If not, other unseen areas may be neglected and unsanitary. Are there footrests attached to the wheelchairs? Sometimes a resident can benefit from “paddling” along with their feet as they move because it helps strengthen ankle and leg muscles. But, if you see residents being wheeled around uncomfortably without footrests, this may signal minimal attention to detail from aides and inadequate monitoring by nursing supervisors.
  2. The Bathroom Linen Test: Are there clean washcloths and towels in the bathrooms? Towel shortages are a perennial problem in care homes. If you ask your guide or the management about this, they will probably tell you that they have plenty on the premises, but the residents hide them. This is sometimes the case, especially in settings for patients with cognitive issues. But sometimes the real problem is that there aren’t enough towels to go around, or that there are not enough laundry workers to ensure clean towels are always available. 
    Every medical authority tells us that proper hand-washing with warm water is the best barrier to the spread of infection in care homes and hospitals. How can patients, staff and visitors comply with this mandate if clean bathroom linens aren’t available? Ask to visit a few residents’ rooms to see if they have adequate linens. If the tour guide discourages you from seeing occupied rooms due to “privacy rights,” strike up a friendly conversation with a resident and ask if you can take a peek in his/her room. This will nearly always gain you access.
  3. The Warm Water Test: As mentioned, medical authorities mandate hand-washing with warm water for infection control. Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) like myself are expected to wash their hands with soap and warm water frequently throughout the day. We are also expected to wash residents’ hands whenever necessary. 
    When you visit a patient’s private bathroom, check out the sinks. Do the warm-water controls actually function? How long does it take to get hot water? If you are unable to enter a resident’s room, try the same tests on bathrooms in the common areas or wherever you can find a sink that should have hot running water. The water may warm up after a few minutes, but when an aide has only five or 10 minutes to get a resident washed and dressed in the morning, they might not have an extra two minutes to spare. Your family member might get a cold face cloth first thing in the morning. Not only is it unpleasant, but it also means that a basic infection control measure, warm water, is MIA.
  4. The Bathroom Temperature Test: Visit the bathrooms and/or shower room. Is it warm enough? Older residents get cold easily and usually are more comfortable in warmer rooms when bathing. When they leave the bath or shower, they shouldn’t shiver and shudder.
  5. The Call-Button Test: On your tour, do you hear annoying call bells or even verbal requests that go unanswered? How long does it take an aide to attend to the person calling for assistance? If these things distract from the tour or annoy you, imagine how they affect someone who feels anxious and may be confused.
  6. The Chair-Alarm Test: Look carefully at the residents’ beds, wheelchairs and other seating to see if there are chair alarms on them. Virtually every group with an interest in improving the lives of residents in long-term care settings, including the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), recommend eliminating the use of bed and chair alarms. Supervisors will likely tell you that these measures keep residents safe, but evidence suggests that they actually lead to less attentive care from staff and more falls. (Google it!)
  7. The Noise Test: Alarms aren’t the only things that can distress residents. If aides routinely shout down the hall to each other, or music or televisions are allowed at higher volumes, this can be upsetting and contribute to anxiety and confusion.
  8. The Dining Room Test: The best way to get a feel for the meals that your loved one will be enjoying in their new home is to eat a few there yourself. How is the noise level in the dining area? Is hot food served deliciously warm as intended? Are residents offered condiments (salt, pepper, sugar, mustard, ketchup, etc.) that they would have used at home? Are the aides attentive to residents, or do they converse mostly amongst themselves during mealtimes as if they are extra breaks? For those who can no longer use a knife, is the food served in bite-sized portions or as finger foods that the person can comfortably chew? Are residents offered refills of drinks? Getting an aging loved one to eat enough and stay hydrated can be a struggle both at home and in a senior living environment. You want to see staff encouraging and enabling residents to eat and drink.
  9. The Calendar Test: From independent living to high-level nursing home care, every senior living setting creates a monthly calendar of activities and social events that is then posted prominently throughout the facility. Pay attention to the type of activities offered, how often the calendar matches what is happening in real time, and whether residents seem engaged while attending these sessions. Pay special attention to activities that you know your loved one would enjoy. How frequently are these sessions held each month? Are these classes appropriate for your loved one’s physical and/or mental capabilities, or can they be adapted?
  10. The Family Council Test: In elder care homes, a family council is one of the best ways we have of monitoring the care provided and advocating for changes or improvements for our loved ones. Many facilities do have resident councils, but frail elderly residents, especially those with dementia, can have trouble remembering their rights and expressing their needs, preferences and criticisms. They often rely on us, their family and friends, to be their eyes, ears and mouths. Once they needed you as a hands-on caregiver, and you did that lovingly. Now they need you to be their advocate. So, ask whether the home has a family council. It will make ensuring your loved one is well cared for much easier.
  11. The Staff-to-Resident Ratio Test: You want your family member to get the level of attention and care they need. That is why a family makes the difficult decision to place a loved one in the first place. If you ask the supervisor about staffing levels, you’ll probably hear something like, “We meet all the state’s requirements for the number of staff on each shift.” And they probably do. The issue isn’t that the home isn’t staffed according to state standards. It’s that the current standards do not meet today’s needs. 
    Our expectations for care are higher today and residents’ needs are also greater. Many have cognitive as well as physical disabilities. In some homes, there is one aide assigned for every eight or 10 residents (sometimes more, depending on the state). If an aide calls out sick or has a family emergency at the last minute, the ratio could be instantly much worse and therefore the quality of care residents receive suffers. 
    Although you may not find an ideal staff-to-resident ratio anywhere, at least ask whether census (the number of residents) or acuity (the level of care these residents require) determines the staffing levels. Ask how the facility assesses resident acuity, and, if applicable, whether dementia symptoms are factored into these assessments.
  12. The Supervisor Test: Who is responsible for monitoring care standards of the unit your family member will live in? Where is that person’s office located? It is within the unit or in some distant corner of the home? An effective manager will go out of their way to interact with their employees, residents and visitors. They will spend time close to the “action” so that they are knowledgeable about their employees’ duties and performance, the residents’ wellbeing and how their area of the home functions. This allows them to be proactive and informed when it comes to making changes and handling complaints. Ask to see the supervisor’s job description to get an idea of what their responsibilities are. After all, you’re paying their salary!
  13. The Aide-Engagement Test: Last, but certainly not least, do the aides smile and make eye contact when they engage with residents? Do they seem to know and respect the residents’ schedules, needs and preferences? When a resident calls out for something, like a snack, an answer to a question or a simple greeting, how do the aides respond? This may be the most important quality marker to look for on a visit. 
    To get a truer picture of aide engagement, you’ll need to visit several times to observe different staff members on each shift. This includes visits on weekends and at different times of the day or evening, such as midmorning, during mealtimes and even after supper. Try to visit during a change of shift, too. Are the aides still available to pay attention to residents during shift changes?

When you’re evaluating long-term care providers, don’t be overly swayed by the charm and marketing initiatives of the administrative staff. Instead, use this checklist to observe the conditions your family member may live with day in and day out. There is more work and attention to detail involved in assessing and achieving excellence of care, but these concrete items can clue you in to the subtler indicators of a quality community

Online Pharmacy Scams

 Nearly a quarter of Americans who use the internet have purchased medications from online pharmacies, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). That’s a huge pool of potential targets for the illicit pharmacies that sprout like weeds online. Dominating Google searches for brand-name meds, and increasingly popping up in social media feeds, they tout fast delivery of painkillers, cancer drugs, antidepressants, sexual aids and more — at bargain prices, with no prescription necessary.

Cost and convenience make online pharmacies tempting, especially for the older Americans who account for 71 percent of outpatient prescriptions. But placing an order can be hazardous to both your physical and financial health.

There are tens of thousands of such sites, and the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) estimates that 95 percent don’t comply with U.S. pharmacy laws or professional standards. Rogue pharmacies often represent themselves as Canadian, exploiting our northern neighbor’s reputation as a haven of low-cost medications, but many are registered to Russian web domains. They may traffic in products that are misbranded, expired, ineffective (with the wrong active ingredients or none at all) or even toxic, laced with opioids and other dangerous substances.

These operators put more than your health at risk. Some are tied to organized crime, the nonprofit Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies (CSIP) reports, and use the payment and personal information you provide for identity theft. In a new twist on prescription drug frauds, crooks posing as FDA or Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents contact people who purchased medications online or by phone and threaten them with arrest unless they pay immediate fines. 

Buying prescription drugs online is not in itself illegal, but consumers should take precautions to distinguish legitimate internet pharmacies from the fraudsters and black marketeers.

Warning Signs

  • You receive unsolicited emails or social media posts promising deep discounts on well-known drugs.
  • A pharmacy site allows you to buy medications without a prescription.
  • The site offers to ship internationally.
  • The supposed pharmacy is located outside the United States, or its website does not list a location.

Do’s

  • Do get your prescriptions from a licensed brick-and-mortar drugstore whenever possible.
  • Do make sure an online seller is licensed. The FDA, the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy and the Center for Safe Internet Pharmaciesoffer tools for finding safe and legal online pharmacies. 
  • Do check that the site has a U.S. address and phone number.
  • Do look for sites with a “.pharmacy” domain or a VIPPS (Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites) logo. These reflect review and accreditation by the NABP.
  • Do know your meds. If you notice anything different or unusual in the packaging, appearance, smell, taste or texture of drugs you bought online, consult your pharmacist.  

Don’ts

  • Don’t judge a pharmacy website as credible just because it looks slick and professional. Pharmaceutical scammers are adept at creating convincing online storefronts.
  • Don’t buy unless the pharmacy requires a prescription from your own doctor and has a licensed pharmacist you can consult.
  • Don’t give credit card or other payment information unless you’re sure the pharmacy site is secure. 
  • Don’t give money or financial information in response to a letter or phone call purportedly from the FDA or DEA — it’s almost certainly an extortion scam. Those agencies do not send warnings to or demand money from individual consumers.

Reprinted from AARP Fraud Network

Medical Equipment Scams

Medical Equipment Scams

Medicare spends more than $6 billion a year on durable medical equipment (DME) — wheelchairs, walkers, braces and other devices prescribed by doctors to help patients deal with an injury or chronic illness at home. That’s a boon to beneficiaries but also a big draw for fraudsters, who exploit older Americans’ health care concerns to enrich themselves.

In a medical equipment scam, someone reaches out to you with an offer of a “free” (as in, “Medicare will pay for it”) brace, wheelchair or other device. You might get an unsolicited phone call, see an advertisement or be approached at a health fair or similar event. Sometimes, it’s a garden-variety government impostor scam: Someone claiming to be from Medicare calls to say you’re eligible for a free knee or back brace, and they need your Medicare or Social Security number to process the benefit. You may or may not get a brace, but the crooks get what they need to steal your identity.

Those cons victimize individual consumers. The big business in DME fraud involves unscrupulous equipment suppliers ripping off Medicare on a grand scale. Using telemarketing and hard-sell tactics, unscrupulous equipment suppliers lure you into ordering their wares, get your health care information, obtain bogus prescriptions (by paying kickbacks and bribes to doctors or by forging their signatures) and file false claims. They stick Medicare with the bill for costly devices that are not medically necessary, not properly prescribed or not delivered to patients at all. (DME fraud might also target Medicaid or private insurance companies.)

And a big business it is. In April 2019, federal authorities charged 24 people with operating a complex scheme to market back, knee, wrist and shoulder braces to hundreds of thousands of elderly and disabled Medicare recipients. This scam alone cost the government more than $1.2 billion. These and other losses related to DME fraud are borne by the taxpayers who fund Medicare and by beneficiaries shouldering higher premiums and out-of-pocket costs.  

Don’t let your health concerns make you an unwitting accomplice to fraud. Take these steps to avoid medical equipment scams.

Warning Signs

  • You receive an unsolicited call or other communication offering a free or low-cost medical device as a Medicare “benefit.”
  • Someone claiming to be from Medicare asks for your Medicare or Social Security number. Medicare representatives almost never make unsolicited calls to consumers and do not ask for personal information by phone.
  • Your quarterly Medicare Summary Notice (MSN) or an explanation of benefits (EOB) from your health plan lists medical equipment you did not order or receive.

Do’s

  • Do hang up on unsolicited calls offering you a medical device that will be billed to Medicare.
  • Do carefully review MSNs and EOBs. Call Medicare (800-633-4227) or your insurance company if you see claims for supplies or services you don’t recognize.
  • Do be aware that if you accept an offer of medical equipment, you could be responsible for up to 20 percent of the Medicare-approved cost of the item.

Don’ts

  • Don’t give your Medicare or insurance number to strangers. Share it only with trusted health care providers.
  • Don’t order durable medical equipment over the phone unless advised to do so by your physician.
  • Don’t accept delivery of medical equipment unless it was ordered by your doctor.
  • Don’t be swayed by scare tactics, such as claims by an equipment provider that you should get a device now because Medicare is running out of money. Charging Medicare for equipment for future use, before your doctor certifies it as medically necessary, is illegal.

Reprinted from AARP Fraud Network.

Is it a real charity calling? Or is it a scam?

The phone rings, and an automated voice makes the pitch. Perhaps it’s a message asking you to donate to a veterans’ charity, or maybe it’s one asking for you to make a critical donation to breast cancer research. And while our charitable instincts may urge us to act, it’s important that we cast a critical eye on these unsolicited charity robocalls before donating to make sure they are legitimate.
 
How It Works• Scammers use the same techniques as trusted charities to reach you — and this includes robocalls.•The name of the fake charity may closely resemble the name of a real charity.•The fake charity might ask you to wire money or send cash — see this as a red flag.
What You Should Know• Real charities need your support, and they, like your own bottom line, lose out when a scammer intervenes.•Scammers will put pressure on you to act quickly, before you have a chance to think through your decision or do any
research.
What You Should Do• Research charities before making a donation. It’s easy to do — check out charities at www.give.org or www.charitynavigator.org before donating. You can also reach out to your state government (find out which office at www.nasconet.org) to see if the charity is registered to solicit in your state.•Consider making an annual giving plan at the start of the year for all of the charities you will support. You can simply explain to any organization not on your list that you have made your commitments
for the year.
 

Reprinted from AARP Fraud Watch Network

Genetic Scam

A genetic scam is sweeping the nation.

WHAT IS THE SCAM?

Older adults at senior centers, housing complexes, and community events are targeted by companies promoting “free” genetic testing, cancer screening, or DNA testing. During the event, older adults are asked to swab their cheek to collect a DNA sample which will be sent to the lab for analysis. They are told that the test will be covered completely by Medicare, and all that is needed to process it is their Medicare number.

NOW WE KNOW:

  • Medicare only pays for DNA or genetic testing in rare circumstances where it is medically necessary for treatment or diagnosis of a medical condition.
  • These tests must be ordered by the patient’s own physician.
  • There must be documentation in medical records to substantiate the need for the testing.
  • The company involved told substantial lies in order to get people to have their cheek swabbed and fill out the information forms, which included their Medicare number.

WHAT WE FEAR:

  • We’re concerned that the genetic tests will be run, but Medicare will deny the claim, which may open people to large lab and testing bills.
  • We’re concerned that people’s Medicare and personal information will be sold or shared without permission, opening people to other fraudulent Medicare claims or ID theft.

Genetic testing fraud is simply another trend in a long line of fraud, waste, and abuse examples within the arena of laboratory services. The Office of the Inspector General has a webpage on genetic scams.

WHAT TO DO NOW:

  • Make sure your senior center, senior community, church group or other group focused on older Mainers does not allow “visits and free testing” from these companies. If you question what is covered under Medicare, call Medicare or your plan advisor.
  • If you think you might be involved in a scam, call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227). TTY users can call 1-877-486-2048. Medicare is open 24 hours a day 365 days/year so a beneficiary can file a complaint or express a concern any time of day. You can also file a report on-line.
  • Call your primary care physician and alert the office. Scammers need permission from your PCP to get the test covered under Medicare.
  • Check your Medicare summary of services carefully. If there is a Medicare claim rejection for this genetic screening, keep the information. Contact Gloria Rhode, Senior Medicare Patrol Project Statewide Coordinator at Legal Services for the Elderly  (207) 621-0087 if you receive any correspondence from the genetic testing lab.
  • Kerry Faria at SeniorsPlus in Lewiston is also aware of this issue and can offer advice if necessary.
  • If you haven’t already, because of previous identity theft scares, freeze your credit. This article tells you how.
  • Ask your bank and credit card company to be on the watch for any suspicious activity.

Reprinted from Maine Senior Guide

Watch out for work-from-home scams

   
You receive a robocall about an amazing business opportunity. You can work from home and make hundreds, maybe even thousands, of dollars doing something simple, right from home. Sounds like a winning deal, right? Well, it’s not.
 
How It WorksThe work-from-home call may float the names of major companies (“You can make hundreds as an authorized Amazon affiliate,” for example). Or the offer may be for you to work stuffing envelopes, doing data entry, or assembling crafts, among other things. Training isn’t required, but, of course, you’ll have to pay something upfront for supplies, certification, coaching, website design, client leads, etc. In return you may get a load of useless information, or nothing at all, or a demand that you place more ads to recruit more people into the scheme.
 
What You Should Know•The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) receives roughly 10,000 complaints a year about work-at-home scams.•Don’t assume work-from-home offers are real just because they have a website, appear in the newspaper, or even on a legitimate job site.•Website testimonials for these businesses are often fake, typically revolving around a struggling individual suddenly making lots of money after taking advantage of this amazing opportunity.•If your earnings are tied primarily on recruiting other people to join the operation, this is a pyramid scheme, not a job opportunity.
 
What You Should Do•Before you sign up or send any money, check out the company offering the job with your state consumer protection agency and with the Better Business Bureau.•Ask detailed questions. The FTC recommends you ask how you will be paid (such as by salary or commission), who will pay you and when, and exactly what you will get for any money you provide.•Learn about the FTC’s Business Opportunity Rule, which requires companies to disclose key information about business opportunities they are selling.•If you have been targeted by this scam or have fallen victim, call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 1-877-908-3360 for guidance and support.

Reprinted from AARP Fraud Watch Network

Important Paperwork: What To Keep and How Long


S

If you’re like most people, you probably have a box or two of old files cluttering your closet or a desk drawer that is stuffed to the brim with papers. It’d be nice to sort through all these documents and purge what you don’t need anymore, but knowing what to keep and for how long can be difficult. As a certified professional daily money manager, a national certified guardian and a California licensed professional fiduciary, I often get questions from clients about how to be more organized without making costly mistakes.

Managing all the important paperwork for one household is confusing enough, but things can become even more complicated for family caregivers who also have financial and medical power of attorney (POA) and help oversee their aging loved ones’ files, too. To help caregivers pare down their paperwork and create a straightforward filing system, I’ve provided general rules for most common documents below. However, be careful about getting rid of original paperwork. Don’t throw anything away unless you are sure you can obtain another physical or electronic copy of a record from the bank, insurance company, doctor, your employer, etc.

How Long to Keep Tax Returns and Supporting Documents

Anything to do with taxes should be kept for at least seven years. The IRS has a three-year window from your due date to audit your tax return if it suspects good faith errors. You also have the same amount of time to file an amended return if you find you made a mistake. However, the IRS has six years to challenge your return if it thinks you underreported your gross income by 25 percent or more. If you fail to file a return or filed a fraudulent return, there is no limit on when the IRS can come after you.

Specific items you should keep in addition to your tax returns themselves include documentation of income, alimony, charitable contributions, mortgage interest, retirement plan contributions and any other tax deductions taken.

Organizing Medical Bills and Health Records

Keep all medical bills and supporting documentation, such as cancelled checks or credit card statements, until you are sure that the bill has been confirmed as paid in full by you and/or your insurance company. If you are deducting unreimbursed medical expenses on your tax return, keep all supporting documentation as discussed above. Remember to keep all health-related bills, including dental, vision, hearing aids and over-the-counter medications, to name a few.

Retirement Plan Statements

Keep your quarterly statements until you receive your annual summary document. If everything matches up, you can then shred the quarterly statements. Hold onto your annual summaries until you close the associated account(s).

IRA Contribution Paperwork

If you made an after-tax contribution to an individual retirement account (IRA), you will need to keep your statements regarding these contributions indefinitely. Otherwise, you won’t be able to prove that you already paid tax on this money when it is time to make a withdrawal. Without careful record-keeping, you may risk paying unnecessary taxes on distributions that should be tax-free.

Brokerage Statements

You must keep these until you sell the securities covered by them to prove whether you incur capital gains or losses for your tax return. If you hold stocks or bonds for many years, you will need to keep the statements. The exception is if the cost basis and date of acquisition are listed on the statements. In this case, you only need to keep the year-end statements to support your tax return each year.


Browse Our Free Senior Care Guides


Bank Records

Keep any checks or statements related to your taxes, such as business expenses, home improvements or mortgage payments for at least seven years.

Bills

Keep bills until you receive the cancelled check or credit card statement showing that your payment was received. Be sure to hold onto receipts for big purchases like jewelry, furniture, art, appliances, automobiles and electronics so that you can prove the value of these items to your insurance company in the event they are lost, stolen or destroyed in a covered disaster such as a fire.

Homeownership Documents

Keep all records documenting the purchase price of any property, the cost of all improvements, as well as records of expenses incurred in selling and buying property for seven years after the sale or purchase.

Reconciling Credit Card Receipts and Statements

Keep original receipts until your credit card statements arrive and then go through the charges one at a time to ensure they match. You can then discard the receipts. If your statements document any tax-related expenses, retain them for seven years.

Paycheck Stubs

Keep your paycheck stubs until you receive your annual W-2 form from your employer(s) and make sure the information matches. If they don’t match, request a corrected W-2 from your employer(s).

Using the above guide, you should be able to clear out the bulk of your saved paperwork and then establish a system for keeping up with things moving forward. Remember, you can obtain many of these documents in a digital format, or you can scan the hard copies and archive them electronically. If the task seems overwhelming, you might want to consider enlisting the help of a daily money manager, accountant or professional organizer. The most important part is finding a system or solution that simplifies managing your own health and finances and that of your aging loved one.

Reprinted from AgingCare

Facebook Security Compromises

Facebook security compromises are in the news in recent weeks, and scammers are taking advantage of this in a variation of the “tech support scam” we have previously written about. And because Facebook’s security issues are top of mind for many, calls from these scammers can sound more credible.
How It WorksYou will receive an auto-dialed call (or robocall) claiming to be from Facebook, warning that your account has a security issue. The caller directs you to press 1 if you pick up the call or they will leave a phone number for you to call back, under threat that they will suspend your account. When you talk to a “representative,” they will ask you for your login credentials or other personal information. They may go on to claim that you have a computer virus that they will fix for a fee, if you let them take control of your computer remotely.
What You Should Know•Facebook is not going to call to tell you of an account problem.•Anytime someone contacts you and requests remote access to your computer, it is a scam. The goal is to convince you of a problem you don’t have to get you to pay for a repair you don’t need, or to install software that gives the scammer access to social or financial accounts.
What You Should Do•If you get an unsolicited call claiming to be from Facebook, do not press 1 to speak to a representative, and do not return the call.•Don’t rely on results of an online search for “Facebook customer service,” as many authentic-looking pages are phony.•If you have concerns about your Facebook account, log on and click “Settings” to review your privacy settings. If you think your account has been compromised, set a new password immediately.•If you have been targeted by this scam or have fallen victim, call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 1-877-908-3360 for guidance and support.