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.


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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.

7 Behaviors That Can Make You Vulnerable to Fraud

What makes you prone to getting scammed? It may be the personality traits that make you a good person. Based on our research at the AARP Fraud Watch Network, here are some characteristics that make people vulnerable to fraud:

1. You respect authority. Many common scams are perpetrated by crooks impersonating a police officer, an IRS or Social Security agent, or a court representative. Always remember this: Government offices rarely call citizens to conduct business — and they never demand quick payment. If that’s what the caller wants, put aside your inclination to defer to authority figures. Just hang up.

2. You like to please people. One scam we’ve been seeing hits people at work and plays on your good nature. An email from a boss or coworker asks you to buy some expensive gift cards and take photos of the front and back of the card to get reimbursed. The email is actually from a scammer mimicking the real thing. Once he has the numbers from the gift cards, he uses them before the fraud is caught.

3. You are cocky. We often hear from victims, “I’ve never been defrauded. I thought I was too smart.” If you believe you are immune to being cheated, think again. Scammers are professionals — and endlessly creative. 

4. You slipped up once. Sadly, if you have already been scammed, chances are good the fraud calls will increase. Thieves put your information on a “victim list” that gets sold to other scammers or criminal rings.

5. You’re friendly. Many victims who call us met their scammer on social media via a friend request. Try to limit social media contact to real friends and family, and turn down requests from people you don’t know. 

6. You are under stress. We also get lots of calls from people who were tricked into giving away personal info while dealing with an illness or another stressful event. People who have recently lost a loved one are also vulnerable, especially if the obituary reveals details that a crook can use as bait. Be especially vigilant during times of crisis.

7. You’re lonely. The Fraud Watch Network has found that many scam victims report feeling lonely and isolated from family and friends. That makes them susceptible to the fake friendliness of professional thieves. If you feel lonely or isolated, AARP and AARP Foundation have programs to help you connect with people in your community. Go to connect2affect.org.

5 Ways to Stop Spam Calls


Woman on phone


  Unwanted phone calls and text messages continue to surge, no matter what efforts lawmakers and regulators take to curb them. In the first four months of this year, call-blocking service YouMail reports, more than 12 billion robocalls were made to American homes. That’s about 4 million every hour, and a steady increase from last year. Live calls from telemarketers have also continued to increase.

Why? Sadly, the answer is that they work. It costs scammers and spammers only a few dollars per day to simultaneously blast tens of millions of calls with autodialers. Senders — many of them con artists — spend about $438 million per year on robocalls. Those calls generate more than 20 times that amount in income, almost $10 billion a year.

The crooks generating the calls easily hide their tracks. Calls may travel through a maze of networks. They often display on caller ID screens with phony “spoofed” numbers that may appear to be local or from trusted businesses and government agencies. And they are changed frequently on purpose.

It’s nothing personal. Spammers often don’t know who owns targeted numbers, or even if the numbers are active. But no doubt you’ve been targeted, and you will continue to be. So how do you defend yourself?

You can try not picking up. But the calls that reach your voicemail greeting could flag that yours is a working number — and ripe for future calls.


Here’s a list of do-it-yourself defenses that have dropped the automated and live spam calls received by more than 90 percent.

  • Answer with silence. When you say hello or anything else, automated voice-activated calls launch the robocall recording or transfer you to a call center, where a live operator angles for personal and financial information. But saying nothing usually disconnects these calls within seconds, with no robo-message or callbacks from that phony number. If it is an unsolicited “live” caller, wait for that person to speak to break the silence. If you don’t recognize the voice, hang up.
  • Try a “not in service” recording. Using a portable tape recorder and a microphone attached to a handset, I copied a “this number is not in service” message during a callback to a scammer’s spoofed number. Since it’s cued, I sometimes play that recording — again, saying nothing — when answering calls before they go into voicemail in hopes my number will be removed from spammer calling lists. So far, I have not gotten a single callback from those incoming numbers.
  • Trap ’em with an app. Smartphone users have plenty of options that flag and block some fraudulent calls and text messages. Some services are free; others cost a few bucks per month.

Customers of AT&T can use Call Protect, Verizon Wireless provides Caller Name ID, Sprint offers Premium Caller ID, and T-Mobile has Scam ID and Scam Block. You can also buy apps like YouMail and RoboKiller that will filter calls for a few bucks a month — or for free in the case of Youmail.

Another freebie for virtually every landline user: Press *77 to block “anonymous” and “private” numbers, then deactivate it anytime with *87.

To block individual numbers that get through on an iPhone, open the phone app, tap the circled “i” icon to the right of the spam number that called, scroll down and tap Block This Caller. For Android smartphones, open the phone app and tap the calling number, select Details, then Block Number.

  • Know which calls to avoid. The most common calling cons are pitches that promise to reduce debt and credit card rates or to get you preapproved loans; offer free or low-cost vacations, time-shares, home security systems and medical supplies; or come from government and utility company impostors.
  • A dropped or “one-ring” call is a common ruse to prompt a callback. Beware of area codes 268, 284, 809 and 876, which originate from Caribbean countries with high per-minute phone charges. 

Robocalls tend to be highest on Friday and Tuesday.

Reprinted from AARP Fraud Network

May is National Stroke Awareness Month

May is National Stroke Awareness Month

In May alone, some 65,000 Americans will experience a stroke with many unaware that they were even at risk. Less than a third will arrive in the emergency room within three hours, the optimal time period for better outcome

May marks National Stroke Awareness Month, and this year the National Stroke Association is turning the spotlight on the 10 modifiable risk factors that account for 90% of strokes globally.  Hypertension remains the single most important modifiable risk factor, accounting for nearly 48% of strokes. With eight in 10 people experiencing their first stroke having hypertension, getting your blood pressure checked is an important first step in controlling your stroke risk.

Research has shown that unhealthy behaviors such as physical inactivity, poor diet, and smoking have an adverse effect on health and increase your stroke risk. For example, smokers have an increased risk of stroke, up to two to four times, compared to a nonsmoker or those that have quit for longer than 10 years.

During National Stroke Awareness Month, the National Stroke Association is urging the public to look at their stroke risk factors, and pledge to make at least one change to reduce their stroke risk.

Here’s how much stroke would be reduced if each were eliminated:

– Hypertension 47.9%

– Physical inactivity 35.8%

– Lipids (blood fats) 26.8%

– Poor diet 23.2%

– Obesity 18.6%

– Smoking 12.4%

– Heart causes 9.1%

– Alcohol intake 5.8%

– Stress 5.8%

– Diabetes 3.9%

Beyond reducing your risk for stroke, knowing the signs and symptoms of a stroke are equally important.  Every 40 seconds someone in the U.S. has a stroke and around 800,000 people will have a stroke in the United States this year alone.

“Learning how to recognize a stroke is just as important as reducing your risk factors,” says Robyn Moore, CEO of the National Stroke Association. “We know that recognition of stroke symptoms leads to receiving medical attention faster, which results in better outcomes. Knowing the signs of stroke, how to prevent it, and how to help others around you, just might save a life.”

Sadly, however, fewer than half of 9-1-1 calls for stroke are made within one hour of symptom onset and fewer than half of callers correctly identify stroke as the reason for their call. The acronym FAST is an easy way to identify the most common symptoms of a stroke:

F – Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?

A – Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

S – Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Is their speech slurred?

T – Time: If you observe any of these signs, call 9-1-1 immediately.

A common misconception is that strokes occur only in older adults. Although, your stroke risk increases with age, a stroke can happen to anyone at any time. About 15% of ischemic strokes occur in young adults and adolescents.

The need for public awareness surrounding stroke prevention and awareness has never been greater.  Despite being a leading cause of adult long-term disability, and the fifth leading cause of death, less than one in five Americans can correctly classify all five stroke symptoms. The time to take action is now. This May, during National Stroke Awareness month, get to know your stroke risk factors and learn to better identify the signs and symptoms of stroke. The life you save just might be your own.

Reprinted from the National Stroke Association.