Older adults lose an estimated $2.9 billion each year to financial scams, according to a Senate committee report released this week.
Law enforcement struggles to fight these scams because it’s “like playing a game of whack-a-mole,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who chairs the Special Committee on Aging, before a Wednesday hearing on fighting elder fraud. “Many scams are perpetrated by criminals operating from foreign call centers, beyond the reach of state and local law enforcement and thousands of miles from the seniors whom they victimize,” she said.
As part of the hearing, the committee released its 2019 report on the top 10 scams targeting seniors in 2018. The most prevalent scam, out of more than 1,500 complaints to the panel’s hotline, involved Internal Revenue Service (IRS) impersonators who conned people into coughing up tens of millions of dollars. In descending order of frequency, the report lists: unsolicited calls, including robocalls; sweepstakes and Jamaican lottery scams; computer tech-support scams; elder financial abuse; grandparent scams; romance scams; Social Security impersonation scams; impending lawsuit scams; and identity theft.
Call AARP’s free Fraud Watch helpline at 877-908-3360 to speak with volunteers trained in spotting scams.
Although criminals continue to invent new ways to separate older people from their money, law enforcement has had some success in its anti-fraud efforts. According to Collins, the largest sweep of elder fraud cases in U.S. history last February led to criminal charges against more than 200 defendants whose victims had lost more than a half billion dollars. And in 2016, five call centers in India were taken down; as a result, 24 coconspirators in the United States were sentenced to prison and ordered to repay millions of dollars in restitution.
According to the committee, scams persist because fraudsters gain the trust and cooperation of victims by harassing or seducing them. The Senate committee urges people to hang up if they receive a suspicious call and then call its toll-free Fraud Hotline, 855-303-9470.
To identify and avoid scams, the committee suggests remembering these tips:
- Con artists force you to make decisions fast and may threaten you.
- Scammers disguise their real phone numbers, using fake caller IDs.
- Fraudsters sometimes pretend to be a government agency, such as the IRS.
- Con artists try to get you to give them personal information, like your Social Security number or account numbers.
- Before giving out your credit card number or money, ask a friend or family member for advice about the situation.
- Beware of offers of free travel.
Reprinted from AARP.ORG
Financial experts have said that taxpayers should prepare to file returns even during the shutdown, knowing that refunds could be affected. But the IRS said Monday it will recall a significant portion of its workforce, currently furloughed as part of the government shutdown, and will process refunds as it normally does.
During previous federal government shutdowns, refunds were not processed.
“We are committed to ensuring that taxpayers receive their refunds notwithstanding the government shutdown,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig. “I appreciate the hard work of the employees and their commitment to the taxpayers during this period.”
Taxpayers who usually file early in the year should file as soon as they have all of the necessary documentation for a complete and accurate return, the IRS said.
For most taxpayers, Monday, April 15, 2019, is the filing deadline to submit 2018 tax returns. Because of the Patriots’ Day holiday on April 15 in Maine and Massachusetts taxpayers who live in those states have until April 17, 2019, to file their returns, the IRS said.
Software companies and tax professionals will accept and prepare tax returns before Jan. 28, then will submit the returns when the IRS systems open later this month. To minimize errors and for faster refunds, the IRS “strongly encourages people to file their tax returns electronically,” the IRS said.
Tax preparers have been concerned about this tax season even without the government shutdown because it is the first tax season that changes resulting from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 will be in effect.
“IRS employees have been hard at work over the past year to implement the biggest tax law changes the nation has seen in more than 30 years,” Rettig said. Passage of the tax overhaul caused changes in 400 IRS forms, and the agency has revised its tax withholding tables and changed tax rates and brackets.
Social Security numbers are the skeleton key to identity theft. And what better way to get someone’s Social Security number than by pretending to be from Social Security?
The Social Security Administration (SSA) estimates that scammers call thousands of Americans every day, looking to wangle personal information, steal benefits or both. It’s a common form of government impostor scam, in which fraudsters pose as government officials to get you to send money or give up personal and financial data for use in identity theft.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported a surge in late 2018 in scams involving fake SSA employees calling people with warnings that their Social Security numbers had been linked to criminal activity and suspended. The caller asks you to confirm your number so he or she can reactivate it or issue you a new one, for a fee. This is no emergency but a ploy to get money and personal data: Social Security does not block or suspend numbers, ever.
This con is sometimes executed via robocall — the recording provides a number for you to call to remedy the problem. In another version, the caller says your bank account is at risk due to the illicit activity and offers to help you keep it safe.
On the other hand, you might get a call from a supposed SSA representative bearing good news — say, a cost-of-living increase in your benefits. To get the extra money, you just have to verify your name, date of birth and Social Security number. Armed with those identifiers, scammers can effectively hijack your account, asking SSA to change the address, phone number and direct deposit information on your record and thus diverting your benefits.
Consumer Reports warns of another trick with an ironic twist: Fraudsters send out emails that appear to be from SSA and instruct you to click a link to register for a free service that protects you from Social Security fraud. It’s actually a garden-variety phishing scam, designed to guide you to a fake government website that will steal your information.
With a little vigilance, Social Security scams are not difficult to identify and avoid.
- You get an unsolicited call from someone claiming to work for SSA. Except in rare circumstances, you will not get a call from Social Security unless you have already been in contact with the agency.
- The caller asks for your Social Security number — again, something an actual SSA employee wouldn’t do.
- A call or email threatens consequences, such as arrest, loss of benefits or suspension of your Social Security number, if you do not provide a payment or personal information.
- Do hang up if someone calls you out of the blue and claims to be from SSA.
- Do be skeptical if a caller claims to be an “officer with the Inspector General of Social Security.” Scammers appropriate official-sounding and often actual government titles to make a ruse seem authentic.
- Do set up a My Social Security accountonline and check it on a monthly basis for signs of anything unusual, even if you have not yet started collecting benefits.
- Do install a robocall-blocking app on your smartphone, or sign up for a robocall-blocking service from your mobile network provider.
- Don’t call a phone number left on your voice mail by a robocaller. If you want to contact SSA, call the customer-service line at 800-772-1213.
- Don’t assume a call is legitimate because it appears to come from 800-772-1213. Scammers use “spoofing” technology to trick caller ID.
- Don’t give your Social Security number or other personal information to someone who contacts you by email. SSA never requests information that way.
- Don’t click links in purported SSA emails without checking them. Mouse over the link to reveal the actual destination address. The main part of the address should end with “.gov/” — including the forward slash. If there’s anything between .gov and the slash, it’s fake.
As Medicare’s 60 million beneficiaries pore over their choices for coverage for everything from medical services to prescription drugs, government officials warn that this is prime time for fraudsters to try to scam older consumers.
“Do your research and use trusted sources,” advises Jason Adler, assistant director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Midwest regional office. The FTC monitors the latest ploys that criminals use to get people’s Social Security or credit card numbers and other personal information that can help them cheat Americans. Adler says the best place to get information about your Medicare coverage or enrollment is either Medicare.gov or by calling the Medicare hotline at 800-MEDICARE (800-633-4227).
Navigate coverage options, prescription rules and more at our Medicare Resource Center.
Here are some common scams and Adler’s tips on how to thwart them.
Someone calls claiming to be from Medicare and says your Medicare number and credit card information are needed to sign you up for health coverage.
Solution: Hang up the phone. “Anyone calling saying they’re an official Medicare agent selling you insurance is a scammer,” Adler says. Medicare does not call beneficiaries to sign them up.
Someone calls saying you have to sign up for a Part D Prescription Drug plan or you’ll lose your Medicare coverage.
Solution: That pitch is “just not true,” Adler assures. So hang up the phone. Buying a Part D plan is completely voluntary, he says, and has nothing to do with the rest of your Medicare coverage.
Someone calls claiming to be a Medicare representative and says your billing information must be confirmed to keep your coverage active.
Solution: Again, hang up. Medicare employees will not cold-call you and are not allowed to ask for payment information on the phone or online.
An alleged insurance agent or broker calls to offer you a great deal on a Medicare supplemental insurance (or Medigap plan) or a Medicare Advantage private insurance plan.
Solution: This one is a little trickier. Listen to the person’s pitch and ask for information in writing. If the agent is sending you an email, Adler says to make sure you have a virus scanner on your computer and don’t click on a link that sends you to an unfamiliar website. You can also call your state insurance department to make sure that the company the caller says he represents is legitimate.
Chances are, if the caller is a scammer, once you start asking questions and refuse to turn over any personal or credit card information, the individual will hang up.
Someone calls asking for your new Medicare number to update your account and to send you the latest open enrollment information.
Solution: Stop. Do not give out your new Medicare number over the phone. Earlier this year, Medicare began mailing out updated cards that have an 11-character identifier that replaces Social Security numbers.
“We’ve seen scammers calling consumers saying that they need their information so they can get their new Medicare card or that they have to pay a fee to get their new card,” Adler says. “Those things are false.”
Medicare cards are free. New cards have been mailed to enrollees in 33 states and the District of Columbia and are in the mail to consumers in the other 17 states. If you haven’t received your card, you can go to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ new Medicare card website to check on the status of the mailing to your state as well as to sign up for an email alert when your card is mailed.
Veterans Day was this past weekend, and we want veterans to know that scammers go to great lengths to target their money, their benefits, and their commitment to current and former soldiers.
How It Works:
Targeting veterans can take many forms:
- The Update Your Military File Scam: A caller claims to be from the Department of Veterans Affairs and asks to “update” your information, but really is hoping to get personal information to steal your credit.
- Veterans Choice Program (VCP) Scam: Scammers set up a phone number nearly identical to the number veterans dial to find out if they are eligible to use approved health care providers outside of the VA system. A recorded message or a person answering the phone tells the caller of a rebate he can get by supplying credit card information. Make sure to dial the correct number for the VCP: 1-866-606-8198.
- Charity Scams: A caller claims to be raising money for disabled veterans or veterans with cancer. They play on sympathy to try to evoke an immediate response. But often, the so-called charity is not registered with the government and/or uses most of the money to raise more funds and pay their salaries.
- The Cash for Benefits Scheme: Predatory lenders target veterans in need of money by offering cash in exchange for future disability or pension payments. These buyouts are typically a fraction of the value of the benefit.
- Employment Scams: Con artists post bogus job offers to recruit veterans on various online job boards. The scammer may use or sell your personal information provided in the job application. It’s likely a scam if you have to pay to get the job, you need to supply credit card or banking information, or the ad is for “previously undisclosed” federal government jobs.
What You Should Know:
- If you are a veteran, you are unfortunately a target, so be mindful of this reality in your day-to-day transactions.
- The Veterans Administration will never call you, e-mail or text you to verify or update your information.
- The old adage applies here – if it’s too good to be true, it usually is.
What You Should Do:
- Check out charities at www.charitynavigator.org before giving any money. Make donations directly to the veterans’ organizations you know.
- Only work with VA-accredited representatives when dealing with VA benefits; you can search for them online at the VA Office of General Counsel website.
- Visit aarp.org/veterans to download your copy of the AARP Watchdog Alert Handbook: 9 Ways Con Artists Target Veterans.
Many people have registered with the FTC National Do Not Call Registry, however it will not stop all unwanted calls. The “Do Not Call” registry prohibits sales calls so you may still receive political, charitable, debt collection and informational calls, as well as telephone survey calls. In addition, companies may still call if you have recently done business with them or if you have given written permission to call you. If you ask a company not to call you again, it must honor your request. ( record the date of your request).
There is also a website, www.nomorobo.com where you can register your landline phone for free that will stop most robocalls that you still might get after registering with the FTC. If a robocaller dials your number, your phone will ring once and Nomorobo will intercept the call.
A mobile application for your cell phone is available for $1.99 a month, but there is no charge to register a regular landline phone.
P.S. I have used Nomorobo on my own landline and it works like a charm. One ring and Nomorobo intercepts the call.
By now, most of us know about the most obvious scams — we avoid phishing emails, letters from Nigerian princes, phone calls from guys claiming to represent Microsoft’s tech support, and we sometimes even remember to check the ATM for the presence of a skimmer. But there’s a whole new generation of scams out there, with criminals hoping to catch you unaware with an innovative con. Here are some dangerous ruses to watch out for.
One-ring phone calls. If you’ve ever heard your phone ring once or twice and stop and then return the call to see who it was, then you’re the target audience for this particular con. Scammers use auto-dialers to randomly call vast banks of phones, but they only allow the target phones to ring once or twice before disconnecting. The expectation is that some people will return the call to see what they missed. And though the Caller ID might look like a typical U.S. number, The Federal Trade Commission says that in reality, they’re connecting to a premium service (like an adult entertainment number) that charges an exorbitant per-minute fee — as much as $9 per minute, plus a $20 international calling charge. The remedy? Don’t call back a number you don’t recognize. But be especially wary of area codes that include 268, 284, 473, 664, 649, 767, 809, 829, 849 and 876, since these are known offenders from the Caribbean.
Sticky ATMs. Skimmers are old news. There’s a new way criminals are trying to get at your credit card, and it’s at least as challenging to detect. Instead of inserting a device into the mechanism that swipes your card, criminals are starting to use adhesive to inhibit the operation of certain buttons on the keypad, meaning you can’t complete your transaction after inserting the card — and using foil in the mechanism to block the credit card from popping back out. Customers who run into these machines leave their card behind, and criminals waiting nearby then use a tool to complete the transaction and take your card as well. The good news, though, is that often there is a solution. According to police, the scam works because many people don’t realize they can perform many of the same actions on the touch screen as on the keypad. So if you’re stymied by the hardware try the screen instead.
Fake funerals. Fake funerals notices are the newest breed of email scam that include poisoned links. Once again, the FTC is on hand to provide a warning: In a nutshell, criminals send fake funeral notices, often mimicking real funeral homes. The email doesn’t indicate whom the service is for, so recipients have to open the included link for details. And of course, the link is malicious and pushes malware onto the PC.
Scam Refunds. If you’ve been bitten by ransomware or a similar crime, in which your PC is held hostage by malware unless you pay a ransom fee, you might now be targeted by a new scam — this time, promising to refund your money. As reported by Identify Theft 911, an ID theft management company, emails have been found in the wild that purport to be from Microsoft or other large tech companies and offer a refund for any losses you had from previous malware. The catch? You need to provide financial information so the refund can be direct deposited. Criminals assume that if you fell for malware once, you might be naive enough to pay a second time.
Reprinted from CBS Moneytalk. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/beware-of-these-dangerous-hi-tech-scams/#