Awareness is Key to Avoiding Senior Scams
Of all of the demographic groups who fall victim to scams, it seems seniors are among the most vulnerable. It’s estimated that one in five Americans over the age of 65 are victims of financial abuse. In order to avoid being a victim of a scam, it’s essential to be aware of the various ways that criminals can separate you from your money and how to avoid falling victim to them.
One of the top scams seniors need to be aware of is Medicare scams. In order to protect those covered under Medicare from the fraudulent use of their Social Security Numbers (SSNs), the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has been required by law to remove SSNs from all Medicare cards by April of 2019 and issue new cards to everyone. These new cards are more secure as they no longer display your social security number as your Medicare number, your gender, or a signature line. You will also be assigned a new Medicare ID number.
The introduction of the new cards has also, unfortunately, brought potential scammers out of the woodwork, attempting to acquire your information to commit identity theft. In this new scam, callers will pose as Medicare representatives, and will ask for payment for you to receive your new ID card. It’s important to note that the new cards are free and require no extra steps on your part.
Scammers may also reach out to you asking if you want to purchase Medicare prescription coverage (Part D). The caller may try to persuade you to buy Part D or lose your Medicare coverage. Note that you do not need Part D coverage; it is completely voluntary and has no impact on your health plan. Once scammers get your information, they can use it to see a doctor, obtain prescriptions, buy medical equipment or even file a false claim. Don’t let this happen to you.
Medicare will never call you uninvited and ask for personal information so you can obtain your new Medicare number. There is no cost for the new card and Medicare will never call you to demand payment. They will also never call to threaten that your health benefits may be cancelled if you don’t provide personal information or pay to get your card. Call 1 800 MEDICARE should you receive any calls that may be a scam.
Here are some other scams that you should be aware of:
Scammers now have the ability to mimic local phone numbers to reach out to potential victims. These callers may say they represent the local clerk’s office or sheriff’s department, claiming that there is a warrant out for your arrest, or that you owe a fine for missing jury duty. Other callers will say they are from the IRS, threatening such things as arrest, deportation, and license revocation if the victim doesn’t pay a bogus tax bill. All of these callers will ask you for an immediate payment via credit card or re-loadable debit or gift cards. They also may request your bank account information to settle this debt. None of these governmental entities operate this way and you should be immediately suspicious when you receive this kind of call.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, lottery scams were the third-most common type of fraud reported in 2017.
The way this scam operates is that you receive a call or email telling you that you have won a sweepstakes, lottery or some other prize. The caller says that the prize comes with a fee, taxes, or customs duties to pay. They will ask for payment via your bank account, credit card, wire transfer, or gift card. Instead of receiving your prize, you will ultimately lose money and possibly be on the receiving end of even more scam calls.
Past due and debt collection scams:
Scammers posing as debt collectors may reach out to you regarding a debt that hasn’t been paid or canceled or that doesn’t even exist. They may pressure you to pay the debt immediately or pay via wire transfer, gift card, or other untraceable method. Note that debt collectors cannot lie to you, threaten you, or pose as a government official. A legitimate debt collector already has your information, often including such things your name, address, date of birth, account number, and some or all of your social security number. Be suspicious of a debt collector that calls asking you for any of this information.
In this day and age, the potential of becoming a victim of fraud or identity theft remains high, but being informed and knowing what to do when one of these scammers attempts to reach out to you is essential in protecting your financial well-being.
Follow these tips and avoid becoming the victim of a scam:
Never give out personal info over the phone or send money to unknown sources through a wire service.
Never call back an unknown number.
Know that the IRS will never contact you by phone or email, only by U.S. mail.
Do not click on any unknown links or emails. Do not click on any link in any email you were not expecting. To verify if the message or notification is legitimate, visit the official website of whatever business it is and check for any notifications there. It’s also important to protect your computer from viruses by making sure your virus and malware protection software is up-to-date.
Trust your instincts. If you have any doubts, hang up the phone or shut the door on the person trying to get money from you.