NEw Archives - Council on Aging

May Scam of the Month

SSA IMPOSTOR CALLS TAKE OVER

Last month, the Social Security Administration (SSA) issued a warning that scammers were spoofing calls from the SSA’s Fraud Hotline. The impostors are telling lies that instill fear like “your social security number has been suspended for criminal activity” or “your benefits might be suspended if you don’t follow these instructions.”

For years, IRS impostor scams have topped fraud reporting lists, but now the federal government says that the SSA impostor scam is nearing epidemic proportions!

Here are some tips to protect yourself:

Share scam information – Scammers had to find a new con because the IRS impostor calls became too recognizable. Remember, knowledge is power, so please tell your family and friends.

Ask questions – The Social Security Administration typically does NOT call you out of the blue and they DO NOT call from the Fraud Hotline phone number.

Follow Up – Don’t call the numbers provide by the caller or through a robocall. Call SSA directly at 1-800-772-1213.

Hang up – These scams use fear to take your money. If you feel pressured into making a quick decision, just hang up.

Don’t trust the Caller ID – Scammers are constantly spoofing numbers to look official and there’s no way to tell the difference.

Safeguard private information – Never reveal private or financial information to anyone unless you initiated the call and know for certain who is on the other line.

Don’t wire money – Methods of payment are important. Reputable companies don’t mind a money trail, but scammers do. That’s why wire transfers, gift cards and bitcoins are the payment methods con artists use because once you pay it, it’s gone.

Report the scam – Whether you fall for the scam or not, report it. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has set up a specific site for the SSA impostor scams at https://indentitytheft.gov/ssa. You can also report the fraudulent contact to the Office of Inspector General online at https://oig.ssa.gov/report or by calling (800) 269-027.

Sources: FTC.gov, ssa.gov, cbs17.com, Clarion Ledger & KSAT12.com 

April Scam of the Month

As many of us live longer, it can become more difficult both physically and financially to maintain a home.  Contractors know this and those who are scammers choose to take advantage of older homeowners. How do you tell if a contractor is a scammer? Here are five “red flag” warnings that you’re being scammed:

Pay Me First

According to the Better Business Bureau, this is the most common scam reported. The contractor will tell you that materials and equipment will need to be ordered. Once you hand over the money, a couple of things can happen: they disappear or they complete the work carelessly.

Trust Me

You have hired a contractor, discussed the work you want completed and the contractor agrees. Now it’s time to sign the agreement. You notice some of the requested work and details are not included. The contractor says “trust me – I’ll take care of it” but it’s not taken care of. Now the contractor tells you that he did not include those extras in the quote and you will have to pay more money.

We Don’t Need a Permit

Any significant construction project requires a building permit. This allows officials to visit occasionally to ensure the work meets safety codes. Dishonest contractors will try to tell you that a permit is not required. Others will try to have you take out a homeowner’s permit. That would mean lying to authorities about who is doing the work, thus making you responsible for monitoring the inspections.

Unexpected Problems

The construction has started or even finished and suddenly the contractor tells you there were unforeseen issues like termites and now the price has skyrocketed. Sometimes additional fees are legitimate, but other times dishonest contractors will bid very low to get their foot in the door and then increase the price later.

Extra Materials

This fraud usually comes from paving companies or roofers or painters.  They tell you that they have extra materials and they can perform the work dirt-cheap. A couple of things can happen. One, they actually do not do the work and take off with your money. Two, they start the work and the job is more complex than they thought and it will cost even more. Third, the work is completed carelessly and in one year your roof leaks or your driveway cracks.

The Legal Aid Society of Middle TN has a helpful booklet about things you need to know before repairing or remodeling. The button below will redirect you to Legal Aid’s booklet.

Here are a few suggestions on how to keep from being a victim of contractor fraud:

  • Hire contractors currently licensed from the TN Board of Licensing contractors. Call 1-800-544-7693 to verify the license. You can also ask the Board if they have had any complaints.
  • Ask the Board if the contractor has paid the insurance bond. This will protect you if the company goes out business or does shoddy work.
  • Use word of mouth. Ask friends and neighbors for suggestions of quality contractors.
  • Ask for references and verify those references.
  • Avoid using a contractor that only has a PO Box or answering service.
  • Call the BBB at 615-242-4222 or TN Consumer Affairs Division at 615-741-4737 to see if any complaints have been filed against a company.
  • Always get more than one bid from different contractors
  • Never hire “on-the-spot”
  • Never accept a verbal agreement…get it in writing!
  • Avoid contracts with blank spaces and make sure the contract includes a license number, address and phone number, detailed work description, list of materials, estimated completion date, price, method of payment and if there is interest to be paid.
  • Read the contract
  • Never pay cash

Sources: Legal Aid Society of Middle TN and www.houselogic.com

 

March Scam of the Month

Spoofed Phone Calls

On Friday, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a warning that scammers are “spoofing” DHS phone numbers. This means your caller ID will show phone numbers that are assigned to DHS but the caller is actually a scammer. In this instance, scammers are posing as law enforcement or immigration officials. Some may tell you that you have been the victim of identity theft, and then the scammer asks you to verify your personal information. Don’t fall for it!

Last week, the Franklin Police reported that the Williamson County Health Department has received complaints that scammers are calling, claiming to be from the Health Department in order to obtain private Medicare information.  This warning is similar to an announcement the Tennessee Department of Health reported a year ago.

Scammers often use spoofing techniques that allow the company name to display on your phone. Caller ID spoofing is the deliberate deception of falsifying information displayed on your Caller ID. Do not rely on the display. If you receive a phone call asking for any kind of private information, it’s best to simply hang up.  

Tips to avoid phone and spoofing scams:

  • Don’t answer calls from an unknown number. When you answer, you’ve just confirmed that your phone number is legitimate.
  • If the caller, or recording, requests you push a button to stop receiving calls – hang up.
  • Do not respond to questions especially ones with a “Yes” or “No” answer.
  • If you get a call from a representative of a legitimate company, hang up and call the number on your account statement or on the company’s website to verify the original call.
  • Never give out personal or private information.
  • Do not allow the caller to force you into an immediate decision or action.

 

Resources: FCC, U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security, Franklin Police Dept. and TN Dept. of Health

January Scam of the Month

Jury duty scams have been around for over a decade and the scam is increasing in our area. The Davidson County Sheriff issued a warning last month that people have been receiving calls from someone pretending to be a deputy. This fake deputy will than tell you that since you did not appear for jury duty, you must pay a fine or be arrested.

Sheriff Department deputies and/or court officers will NEVER call and ask for payment or make threats regarding arrest. Always remember that the goal of scammers is to use fear to illicit an emotional response.

If you have received a jury duty scam call, please report it by calling Metro Police Fraud Unit at 615-862-7594.

Tips to protect yourself:

  • Never give out personal information like social security numbers, DOB, etc.
  • Never give out financial information like bank account numbers or credit card information
  • Do not react out of fear. You have the right to verify any requests for information

 

Sources: FBI & News Channel 5

December Scam of the Month

‘Tis the Season for Holiday Cheatin’

While we shop and cook and hang holiday lights, scammers are busy looking for their next targets. The Better Business Bureau has issued a list of scams to watch for this holiday season and tips on how to keep yourself from being the next victim.  
1. Online Shopping: Most stores have switched to chip reading credit card machines to reduce the risk of fraud and skimming. However, scammers are now focusing their efforts online. To protect yourself and your money, financial experts recommend using a credit card instead of a debit card when making online purchases. 
2. Look-Alike Websites: It’s very easy for scammers to mimic real websites.  Look for the https(the “s” means secure) and lock symbol at the top of the web page. Also, look at the spelling of the web address. It is extremely easy for tricksters to change or add an extra letter to make it look legitimate.
3. Fake Shipping Notifications:  This scam is used with different techniques. You may receive an email with attachments or links that could download malware to your computer to steal your personal information. You could also receive a nondescript postcard where you are instructed to call the number on the card which could lead to you revealing private information and/or when the house is vacant. Don’t fall for it!
4. Phony Charities:  Scammers like to take advantage of the holiday spirit by using fake charity solicitations by email, phone and social media sites. You can verify charities atwww.give.org or givingmatters.guidestar.org/.
5. Temporary Holiday Jobs: A lot of companies need additional help during the holidays. Steer clear of job postings that ask you to share personal information or pay for job leads. 
6. Emergency ScamsBe extremely skeptical if you receive a call from a “relative” saying they have been arrested, kidnapped, or hospitalized while traveling. Never send money unless you can verify the information with another family member first.
7. Letters from Santa: There are several reputable companies that offer personalized letters from Santa Claus; however, scammers like to use this as a way to obtain personal and financial information from parents and grandparents.
8. Unusual Forms of Payment: Be wary of anyone asking for prepaid debit cards, gift cards, wire transfers, etc. as a form of payment. These transactions cannot be traced or refunded.
9. Travel ScamsUse caution when searching for travel bargains. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
10. Social Media Gift Exchange: It sounds fun to purchase one gift and receive so much more in return; however, this holiday “fun” is actually a pyramid scheme which is illegal.
11. Gift Card Scams: Gift cards are always a great idea for the holidays. Just remember to be vigilant. Avoid gift cards displayed in the open. If you choose one that is in a package, inspect the package or open it in front of the cashier to ensure it has not been replaced with a phony. Keep your receipt and register the card online with a new PIN (if possible). 
12. Online Pet Shopping: During the holidays a lot of people look for the perfect gift which could be a pet. Be skeptical of online pet sales. You might receive a pet from a “puppy mill” which could increase the likelihood of poor health, or you may receive nothing at all.
Source: Better Business Bureau
Keep your holidays safe and jolly by not falling for these follies!

November Scam of the Month

Medicare Open Enrollment Scams

It’s open enrollment for Medicare’s more than 60 million participants. As you consider the many options, don’t forget to keep an eye out for scams. Scammers use this time as an opportunity to take advantage of older adults.

 

Here are some common Medicare scams and how to avoid them:

  • You receive a phone call from someone claiming to be from Medicare and saying you need to provide your Medicare number or credit card information in order to sign up for a plan. HANG UP! Medicare NEVER calls beneficiaries to sign up.
  • Medicare recently started rolling out new cards with a unique alphanumeric ID to replace social security numbers on the card. Some scammers are calling clients and asking for payment in order to receive the new card. STOP! The new Medicare cards are FREE.
  • Other tricksters are calling asking for consumers to update their information with the new Medicare number. DO NOT give out your new Medicare ID. Even though it is no longer your social security number, it still needs to be protected.
  • You get a phone call from a representative claiming to be from Medicare, asking you to confirm or update billing information. HANG UP! Medicare will not call you and they will not ask for payment over the phone or through email.
  • If anyone tries to tell you that signing up for a Part D Prescription Drug plan is mandatory, that is another scam.

If someone asks you for your personal information, for money or threatens to cancel your health benefits if you don’t share your personal details, hang up and call Medicare at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).

Medicare open enrollment for 2019 end on December 7th. The best place for information is online at Medicare.gov, calling Medicare at 1-800-Medicare or SHIP (TN State Health Insurance Assistance Program) at 1-877-801-0044. SHIP offers free and unbiased Medicare information and counseling.

 

Resources: Medicare.gov and AARP

September Scam of the Month

COA received a call from a concerned resident of Nashville, alerting staff to a scam targeting older adults in Middle Tennessee.  This scam is using the Publishers Clearing House (PCH) name and claiming that victims have won a special Senior Citizens edition of the sweepstakes and that you will need to pay $1,000 fee to cover the taxes. STOP! This is a scam. If you think you have won a prize, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • NEVER pay for winning a prize or sweepstakes or the lottery
  • PCH notifies MOST winners in person. They will NEVER call a winner
  • Never deposit a check and then send the money back. Once that check bounces, you’ll be out the money you sent
  • Check out PCH website for tips and warning signs at https://info.pch.com/tips-and-warning-signs/

If you have received any communication from PCH that you believe to be a scam, please call their toll free number 1-800-392-4190. To report any scam, please file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-FTC-HELP.

 

Sources: PCH.com and Federal Trade Commission

August Scam of the Month

Rental Housing Scams

All across Middle Tennessee affordable housing is getting more difficult to find. Scammers have ramped up their efforts and rental housing scams have increased. Before starting your housing search, beware of these red flags:

 

  1. The owner will not meet you in person. Don’t fall for the “overseas” excuse for not meeting you face to face.
  2. Never wire money or pay with a prepaid debit card. That’s like sending cash and cannot be traced.
  3. The price is too good to be true. If the listing is significantly less than other homes in the neighborhood, move on. If it sounds too good, it probably is.
  4. You are not able to see the property. NEVER send money or sign any paperwork before seeing the property.
  5. Landlord asks for your banking information. There is no reason for the owner to ask for your personal financial details.
  6. The listing has poor grammar, word order and/or frequent spelling mistakes.
  7. You feel rushed. Scammers want to move quickly, so if you feel that the landlord is overeager and pressuring you, walk away.
  8. Cash only. You should NEVER pay any fee in cash. Scammers want to avoid creating a paper trail.
By being aware of these scam techniques, you can protect yourself from becoming a victim.
Sources: Better Business Bureau and moving.com

July Scam of the Month: Skimming is Out. Shimming is In.

Recently, banks and credit card companies created security chips and issued new cards to combat scammers and skimming machines.  In response, scammers have developed a new technique called “shimming.”

A shim is a paper thin, plastic device that has an embedded microchip and storage.  Scammers can insert the shim into an ATM, gas station pump, or any card reader without you knowing it, then your card information is copied when you put it into the same slot. Later, the scammer returns to download the personal information saved like your account number and PIN. 


                             Shim Card Example
The Better Business Bureau has issued some steps to protect consumers from shimming:
 
  • Keep a close eye on your bank accounts. It’s important to check your online bank accounts regularly, especially after using an ATM or a gas pump. 
  • Be vigilant. If you encounter resistance when sliding your card into the slot, cancel the transaction and notify your financial institution.
  • Use ATMs inside the bank. This step doesn’t guarantee safety but they seem to be less vulnerable than isolated ATMs.
  • Go inside. If possible, pay inside at the gas station or get your cash withdrawal from the teller.
  • Switch to contactless payment. Contactless payment is not vulnerable to shimming scams. Try using your card’s “tap and go” feature, if equipped. Apple Pay and Samsung Pay also offer an extra level of protection.

    Resources: Better Business Bureau, WSMV Channel 4

June Scam of the Month: Robocalls on the Rise

During April, in the U.S., 3.4 billion robocalls were placed. That breaks down to each person receiving 10 calls per month. At the very least, these calls are a nuisance, but for some they become a costly financial nightmare. The most recent robocall scam is called neighbor number spoofing. That means that the area code and the first three digits match your own number. Scammers hope that this trick will encourage you to answer the phone.

Here are some tips from the Better Business Bureau to keep you and your money safe:

  1. Do not provide financial information. If you did not place the call, never give out bank account credit/debit card or social security numbers over the phone.
  2. Do not trust the Caller ID. Scammers can spoof numbers to make it look like the call is coming from a reputable company or even your own number.
  3. Hang up! Or don’t answer. Do not follow directives. When you answer, you are validating that your phone number is active and will probably receive more calls.
  4. Consider downloading an app that helps block robocalls. Some carriers like T-Mobile, AT&T, Sprint, etc. offer free apps.
  5. Register your number with the Do Not Call registry which will help stop sales calls. You can register at donotcall.gov or call 1-888-382-1222 with the phone you want to register.
  6. Trust your gut feeling. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Sources: Better Business Bureau, Federal Trade Commission & NY Times