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.
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.
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:
The owner will not meet you in person. Don’t fall for the “overseas” excuse for not meeting you face to face.
Never wire money or pay with a prepaid debit card. That’s like sending cash and cannot be traced.
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.
You are not able to see the property. NEVER send money or sign any paperwork before seeing the property.
Landlord asks for your banking information. There is no reason for the owner to ask for your personal financial details.
The listing has poor grammar, word order and/or frequent spelling mistakes.
You feel rushed. Scammers want to move quickly, so if you feel that the landlord is overeager and pressuring you, walk away.
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.
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.
The Better Business Bureau has issued some steps to protect consumers from shimming:
Keep a close eyeon 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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Consider downloading an app that helps block robocalls. Some carriers like T-Mobile, AT&T, Sprint, etc. offer free apps.
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.
Trust your gut feeling. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Sources: Better Business Bureau, Federal Trade Commission & NY Times
As summer quickly approaches, keep Benjamin Franklin’s words of wisdom in mind: “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Here are some tips to keep you, your family and identity safe while enjoying your vacation.
Notify your bank. Traveling out of state or overseas while using your bankcard could cause a fraud alert to appear and suspend your account. A quick phone call would prevent this hassle.
Be cautious when searching for rental properties on websites like Craigslist. A legitimate rental will not ask for payment via wire transfer.
Avoid stand-alone ATMS’s. Scammers like these because they are able to attach a credit card skimmer with less risk of detection.
Stay on guard even in your hotel. If you receive a phone call from the “front desk” asking you to confirm your payment method, hang up. It is scam. If the hotel really has an issue, they will ask you to the front desk.
Stay alert. Identity thieves’ techniques evolve. Especially in the technological age but some will always rely on good old-fashioned pickpocketing. Safeguard your wallet, purse and phones.
Save the social media posts. Wait until you are home to share the photos of your family vacation. You don’t want to announce when your home will be empty.
Make sure you place on hold on newspaper and mail deliveries. A full mailbox or several newspaper on your porch are sure signs no one is home.
Only take what you will need. Leave the extra credit/bank cards at home. Do you really need your social security card with you? Birth certificate? If not leave it at home.
Take photocopies or a picture of all the information in your wallet. That includes front and back photos of your credit/bank cards, I.D., passport, etc. Keep the copies in a safe place, not your wallet or purse. One option is to email the copies to yourself so it will always be available.
Be wary of free Wi-Fi. Free means open airwaves and everything you do is transmitted over an unsecured connection and makes you vulnerable. Some Wi-Fi are fake and are set up by hackers just to steal your information. Always double check with the location to see if it is official.
Don’t leave expensive or important belongings in the hotel room. Use the safe if one is provided in the room. If not, ask the front desk for another alternative.
Many credit/bank cards are now equipped with RFID (radio frequency identification) chips, which makes stealing your information easier for high-tech scammers. Consider using a RFID blocking wallet, purse or case.
Most importantly, if anything does happen, act fast. Contact the bank or credit card company as well as the credit reporting bureaus. If your ID is stolen, file a police report immediately. This is necessary for creating a paper trail as well as a timeframe for the theft. If traveling overseas and your passport is lost or stolen, contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate, they can help you with a replacement. You should also call the local police and file a report.
Scammers are now targeting people through text messaging. It’s called “smishing”. Like in all scams, these criminals prey on your sense of urgency. However, with “smishing” scammers also hope to catch you with your guard down. Most people have a tendency to trust their text messages.
This particular scam can come across your phone in various ways. Here are some examples:
Financial Institutions: Dear Bank Customer, Due to a possible breach of some of our account holders, we need you to verify your PIN immediately.
Personal Accounts: Did you request a password reset at firstname.lastname@example.org? If not, please reply STOP. Or Dear Customer, Your Apple ID is set to expire, please follow this link to prevent loss of service.
Seasonal Opportunities: IRS Notice: Tax Return Overdue! Click here to prevent penalties.
Sweepstakes: Dear Walmart Shopper, you just won a $100 gift card. Click on www.fakewebsite.com to claim your prize. Type STOP to cancel.
Personal Message: Spring is finally here! Do you want to go? Jane gave me your number, check out my profile here at (fakelink).
These are all scams. If you receive a text message like these examples, do not text or call the number. By texting STOP, you are verifying that your phone number is valid. Just delete the text message. If you are concerned, call the company directly.
Sources: Brentwood Police Dept. (Facebook Page), fortune.com and USAToday.com
Beginning April 2018, Medicare will begin the year-long process of issuing new Medicare cards. The new card will have a unique Medicare number listed,not your social security number. You will NOT have to do anything to receive this new card.
This change will encourage scammers to try new tactics. If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from Medicare asking you to confirm your social security number for the new card, it is a scam. If you receive a call telling you to pay for a new or temporary card, it is ascam. Here are a few reminders while Medicare changes to the new card:
A legitimate agency is NOT going to call and ask for your Social Security number in order to issue you a new Medicare card.
If you are not sure if the call is authentic, hang up and call the agency back on their customer service line. Call Medicare at 1-800-633-4227 and Social Security at 1-800-772-1213.
There are NO fees associated with the new Medicare cards. You will NOT lose benefits while you wait for the new card.
Sources: Detroit Free Press, AARP & Federal Trade Commission
Many businesses and individuals across the Middle Tennessee have filed reports about scam phone calls from utility companies. Scammers appear to be ramping up their efforts due to higher than average electric bills this time of year.
The scammers are cloning electric company phone numbers, like NES and MTEMC and reporting that customer’s accounts are past due and payment is due immediately or their service will be disconnected. In some instances, the customers are even given a reference number and/or phone number to call where the line is answered promptly and professionally and the past due amount is confirmed. Middle Tennessee Electric Management Corporation and Nashville Electric Service officials both issued warnings to all clients about this scam as well as some tips:
If someone calls threatening disconnection, hang up. Don’t pay
Do not use the reference number or phone number provided by the caller. For NES call 615-736-6900 and for MTEMC call 1-877-777-9020
Never give out personal and/or financial information
If you have doubts about a call, email, text or visit, call your utilities provider first
Last month, the IRS warned of a new email scam that seemed to target Hotmail account users. With this scheme, phishing emails were sent out under the guise of being from the IRS. If you used a link within that email, it redirected you to a Microsoft page, where the user was asked to enter personal and/or financial information.
The websites associated with this particular scam have since been disabled but it is still important to be vigilant. As a new tax season begins, keep in mind scammers will be revving up their efforts to steal YOUR money.
Here are some reminders about the IRS. They will NEVER:
call about past due taxes without having mailed several notices first
call to demand payment including threats to involve law enforcement and have you arrested
call or email asking you to divulge personal and/or financial information
require payment without allowing you to appeal or even question the amount due
require you to use a specific payment method like a pre-paid debit card
ask for your credit/debit card and/or bank information over the phone