- Licensing and Education
- Regulated Entities
- Public Information
*NEW* WATCH OUT FOR THE HURRICANE SANDY PHONE SCHEME
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Social Security beneficiaries have again become the intended targets of an identity theft scheme. Patrick P. O’Carroll, Jr., Inspector General for the Social Security Administration (SSA), is warning citizens about the scheme, which surfaced most recently in Rhode Island.
Inspector General O’Carroll urges all citizens to take precautions when asked for personal information. “You should never provide your Social Security number, bank account numbers, or other personal information unless you are extremely confident about the identity of the person to whom you are providing the information. Social Security representatives generally will not make unsolicited calls and request personal information. They already have access to that information in Social Security records.”
In the Rhode Island incident, a woman received a call from a person claiming to be from the Social Security Administration. The caller informed her that her husband’s Social Security payments would be delayed for several months due to computer damage caused by Hurricane Sandy—unless she provided her husband’s Social Security number over the phone. Fortunately, the woman did not disclose the information. Instead, she hung up and reported the incident.
There are many variations of this type of scheme, which could lead to bank fraud or other types of identity theft. You can read more about identity theft here and here. If you find that someone has stolen your personal information, you should contact the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov/idtheft or 1-877-ID-THEFT.
If you have doubts about the identity of an individual who claims to be from SSA or requests personal information, the Inspector General recommends contacting your local Social Security office, or calling Social Security’s toll-free customer service number at 1-800-772-1213, to verify the legitimacy of the employee and/or the request. (Those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing can call Social Security’s TTY number at 1-800-325-0778.)
Individuals may report suspicious activity involving Social Security programs and operations to the Social Security Fraud Hotline, or by phone at 1-800-269-0271. (The OIG’s TTY number is 1-866-501-2101.)
LOOK OUT FOR THE MEDICARE ARTHRITIS KIT SCAM!
THERE IS NO SUCH ITEM AS A MEDICARE APPROVED ARTHRITIS KIT.
People who approach you and offer you these items:
DO NOT accept items without talking to your doctor.
DO NOT give out your Medicare number or personal information to people who come to your door, call you on the phone, or you meet at a health fair.
DO NOT let people force you to take something you do not want. YOU HAVE THE RIGHT AND THE POWER TO SAY NO!
DON’T LET SCAM ARTISTS WASTE YOUR HEALTHCARE DOLLARS
Don’t be Fooled by Work-at-Home Scams
A negative outcome of the downturn in the economy is an increased number of individuals falling victim to such age old scams as work at home schemes. The number of complaints to the Better Business Bureau and law enforcement agencies such as the FBI is on the increase with this particular scam.
Trusting job seekers are targeted by criminals who trick them into illegal activity.
Victims are often hired to “process payments,” “transfer funds,” or “reship products.” As a “job” requirement, employees are asked to cash fraudulent checks, transfer illegally obtained funds for the criminals, or receive stolen merchandise and ship it to the criminals.
Other scams entice victims to sign up to be a “mystery shopper,” receiving fraudulent checks with instructions to cash the checks and wire the funds to “test” a company’s services. Victims are told they will be compensated with a portion of the merchandise or funds.
The FBI says job scams also provide criminals the opportunity to commit identity theft when victims provide their personal information, sometimes even bank account information, to their potential “employer.” The criminal/employer can then use the victim’s information to open credit cards, post on-line auctions, register websites, etc., in the victim’s name to commit additional crimes.
Candice Twyman of the Better Business Bureau Education Foundation says, “You should always be skeptical of any job offer or offer of easy money that sounds too good to be true, especially those that require you to cash checks and wire money out of the country.”
If you are job searching online, remember that scam artists can create very official looking websites and steal logos from watch dog groups like the BBB to look creditable. And most importantly, do not respond to any unknown emails you receive.
Beware of Promised Credit Fixes
Desperate times can lead to desperate action, and in the case of a downturn in the economy this can lead to disastrous mistakes where people lose more money than they can afford to lose. When people are worried about making credit card payments or max out their limits, they are likely to fall victim to fast talk about easy fixes. There is no easy fix to a credit problem.
Candice Twyman, Executive Director of the Better Business Bureau Education Foundation warns people to be very careful when considering offers from debt consolidation or debt negotiating companies. “Be sure and check out the companies very carefully. Use your Better Business Bureau, but read the report carefully,” states Twyman. Twyman says the things to look for in the report are:
1. How long has the company been in business
2. The rating the company has with the BBB
3. The number of complaints
4. How the complaints were resolved
The length of time the company has been in business is very important because they may not have had time to establish a track record, good or bad. They may be so new, the BBB does not even have a report on them or they could have been in business only a few months, and the complaints have not started coming in.
The best advice is do your homework before giving away your money. Use the resources available to you through the Better Business Bureau at bbb.org, Consumer Reports at www.consumerreports.org, and federal watchdog agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov. They all have valuable information that can stop you from making a costly mistake.
Stimulus and Change Provide Food for New Tricks from Scam Artists
Scam artists have a hatful of deceitful tricks they can continually pull from to steal your money. They purposefully take advantage of your confusion over changes in programs as well as changes our government undertakes.
With a new administration taking office this month and the talk of stimulus packages and change, please pay attention because the scam artists will be using these words to get personal information from you. Here is one example that is already going around via email:
If you're one of the millions of Americans struggling in today's economy, help is available. You've been chosen for the chance to get a US Stimulus Check based on your annual income level. (Participation required. See below for details.)
Refer to the chart below to see the amount of money you can receive:
$0 - $35,000........................$709 US Stimulus Check
$35,000 - $70,000.................$615 US Stimulus Check
$70,000+.............................$504 US Stimulus Check
Make your selection here, then follow the instructions on our website before this offer expires.
Sincerely, GiftHouse Team
If you fall for this and actually go to the website, they will need your bank account number to deposit your check. NEVER provide personal information to strangers over the phone, or on unknown websites.
Another confusing letter that has been going around is about reverse mortgages. The letter makes it sound like this is a new program brought about by the change in government. Reverse mortgages have been available for years to individuals 62 years of age or older.
A reverse mortgage can be helpful to some people, but you should contact a local, trusted reverse mortgage specialist and make sure you understand exactly what this loan means. It is not a way to get money to invest, it is money to help with expenses and/or boost your monthly income.
Make a personal rule for yourself and stick to it. Never give personal information like bank account, Medicare or Social Security numbers to strangers or leave on strange websites. Check first with the BBB at 713-341-6184 or do some independent research…better to be safe than sorry!