Study Suggests Some People Are More Vulnerable to Online Fraud Than Others

by Barbara Parrott McGinity, LMSW

One of the recurring scams I hear about from older adults is the “Microsoft Scam.” How does it work? You receive a phone call telling you “this is Microsoft and we have detected a virus on your computer and we want to help you.” They ask for access to your computer. I equate this to letting a robber into your house, and you sit and watch them still items right in front of you.

Here is what the scammers may ask you to do:
• Trick you into installing malicious software that could capture sensitive data, such as online banking user names and passwords. They might also then charge you to remove this software.
• Convince you to visit legitimate websites (like http://www.ammyy.com) to download software that will allow them to take control of your computer remotely and adjust settings to leave your computer vulnerable.
• Request credit card information so they can bill you for phony services.
• Direct you to fraudulent websites and ask you to enter credit card and other personal or financial information there.

In a survey by AARP released in May 2014 titled, Caught in the Scammer’s Net, they revealed the risk factors that increase your chances of becoming an Internet fraud victim. The survey identified 15 particular behaviors, life experiences, and knowledge attributes that may make a person more vulnerable to online fraud:

Behaviors:
• Clicking on pop-ups
• Opening email from unknown sources
• Selling products on online auction sites
• Signing up for free limited time trial offers
• Downloading apps
• Purchasing through an online payment transfer site
• Visiting a website that required them to read a privacy policy;
• Visiting a website that required them to read a terms of agreement statement
• Being impulsive

Life Experiences:
• Feeling isolated/lonely
• Loss of a job
• Negative change in financial status
• Being concerned about debt

Knowledge:
• Being unaware that banks do not send emails to their customers asking them to click on a link to verify personal information
• Being unaware that a privacy policy does not always mean the website will not share their information with other companies
Are you at risk to be a victim of Internet fraud? In reading them, do feel you might meet any of these risk factors? It is important to be aware of these factors and do understand how you could be tricked.

Be safe and remember: do not click on pop up windows of any type or warning, do not give your personal information to unverified websites, check out all websites and offers before making purchases, do not open emails from strangers, and do not click on links sent by friends unless you have personally verified they sent the email.

Data breaches such as those at Blue Cross Blue Shield and J P Morgan Chase provide scammers with alot of different information to try and trick you. Stop, think and ask…that is the only way to stay safe on the Internet.

WARNING: Individuals promoting genetic testing of Medicare Patients may be committing Medicare fraud and abuse.

by Barbara Parrott McGinity, LMSW

What is Pharmacogenomic Testing?
Pharmacogenomic testing is a new tool in medicine. It is the testing of certain genes to determine how any given individual will respond to specific medications. Drugs are metabolized slowly in individuals carrying genetic polymorphisms that reduce enzyme activity, and these individuals are at an increased risk for adverse drug reactions or therapeutic failure. Alternatively, a genetic polymorphism that increases metabolism could result in ineffective drug treatment.

Genetic testing covered by Medicare?
As long as Medicare is the patient’s primary insurance, and the test is deemed medically necessary, it is currently covered by Medicare with no co-pay or deducible. Title XVIII of the Social Security Act, Section 1862(a) (1) (A) states “…no Medicare payment shall be made for items or services which are not reasonable and necessary for the diagnosis and treatment of illness or injury…”.

Furthermore, it has been a longstanding CMS policy that “tests that are performed in the absence of signs, symptoms, complaints, or personal history of disease or injury are not covered unless explicitly authorized by statute.”

Screening services, such as pre-symptomatic genetic tests and services, or those used to detect an undiagnosed disease or disease predisposition, are not a Medicare benefit and are not covered by Medicare. Similarly, Medicare may not reimburse the costs of tests/examinations that assess the risk for and/or of a condition unless the risk assessment clearly and directly effects the management of the patient.

How Could this be Medicare fraud or abuse?
When an individual offers to provide an educational session to a group of seniors, takes their Medicare number, then does a DNA swab, this does not meet Medicare’s criteria of medical necessity. They are offering a service to the general population without determining actual need and they are doing it outside the guidance of the Medicare beneficiary’s own physician.

The group will bill Medicare for services that do not meet medical necessity and do not have a referring physician familiar with the patient’s health needs. The amount they will receive from Medicare is over $1,100. They are abusing the Medicare system by billing for services that are not reasonable or necessary. They could potentially be committing fraud by intentionally billing Medicare for services they know are not necessary.

What can you do?
1) If you are approached by someone, decline their services because you should not give access to your seniors to individuals who take their personal information. Then call and report this to the Texas Senior Medicare Patrol.
2) If you have already been visited by someone taking DNA swabs, contact the Texas Senior Medicare Patrol to discuss action at 1-888-341-6187,

BBB Advice on What to Do After a Data Breach Compromises Your Identity

Better Business Bureau (BBB) has some suggestions for consumers concerned that their personal identifying information (PII) may have been compromised by a data breach. PII includes name, address, Social Security number, date of birth, and other information that can be used for identity theft.

When a data breach happens, companies often set up separate websites with information for customers, but the BBB recommends that consumers always go to a company’s main website first and follow links from there. Scammers often take advantage of data breaches and subsequent confusion to set up spoof websites and send phishing emails.
BBB offers the following suggestions for consumers concerned that their PII has been stolen:

1. Do not take a “wait and see” approach as you may have done with breaches involving credit card data. You must act quickly. Breaches involving Social Security numbers have the potential to be far more detrimental to victims, and the damage can be difficult to repair.

2. Consider taking a preemptive strike by freezing your credit reports. This will not impact existing credit cards and financial accounts, but will create a roadblock for thieves seeking to create fraudulent accounts using your personal information.

3. At a minimum, if you know your Social Security number has been compromised, place a fraud alert on your credit reports. While less effective than a freeze, this will provide an extra layer of protection. Click here to learn more about security freezes and fraud alerts.

4. Take advantage of any free credit monitoring services being offered by the company to breach victims. While this is not a preventative measure, this will alert you to new accounts or inquiries using your Social Security number so that you can act quickly to repair the damage.

5. Vigilance is key. Regularly check your credit reports at annualcreditreport.com for unauthorized charges or other signs of fraud. (NOTE: This is the only free credit report option authorized by the Federal Trade Commission.)

6. For more information and complete step-by-step guidance on repairing the damage caused by identity theft, visit the FTC’s identity theft resources.

7. Expect that scammers will take advantage of this data breach to send out phishing emails and other messages that appear to be from Anthem, a credit bureau or other legitimate companies. Do not click on links from any email, text or social media messages about this or any other data breach.

Prescreened Credit and Insurance Offers

By Barbara Parrott McGinity, LMSW

If you are like me, you get lots of different, unsolicited offers in the mail nearly every day. New credit card offers, loans, insurance, and they often say you are “prequalified” and have been “pre-screened.” The following is information is from the Federal Trade Commission about what these offers mean and how you stop the receiving them in the mail.
What is a “prescreened” offer of credit?
Many companies that solicit new credit card accounts and insurance policies use prescreening to identify potential customers for the products they offer. Prescreened offers — sometimes called “preapproved” offers — are based on information in your credit report that indicates you meet criteria set by the company.

How does prescreening work?
Prescreening works in one of two ways:
• a creditor or insurer establishes criteria, like a minimum credit score, and asks a consumer reporting company for a list of people in the company’s database who meet the criteria; or
• a creditor or insurer provides a list of potential customers to a consumer reporting company and asks the company to identify people on the list who meet certain criteria.

Can I reduce the number of unsolicited credit and insurance offers I get?
If you decide that you don’t want to receive prescreened offers, you have two choices: You can opt out of receiving them for five years or opt out of receiving them permanently.
• To opt out for five years: Call toll-free 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688) or visit http://www.optoutprescreen.com. The phone number and website are operated by the major consumer reporting companies.
• To opt out permanently: Begin the permanent Opt-Out process online at http://www.optoutprescreen.com. To complete your request, you must return the signed Permanent Opt-Out Election form, which will be provided after you initiate your online request.
When you call or visit the website, you’ll be asked to provide certain personal information, including your home telephone number, name, Social Security number, and date of birth. The information you provide is confidential and will be used only to process your request to opt out.
If you don’t have access to the Internet, you may send a written request to permanently opt out to each of the major consumer reporting companies listed here:
Experian, Opt Out, P.O. Box 919, Allen, TX 75013
TransUnion, Name Removal Option, P.O. Box 505, Woodlyn, PA 19094
Equifax, Inc., Options, P.O. Box 740123, Atlanta, GA 30374-0123
Innovis Consumer Assistance, P.O. Box 495,Pittsburgh, PA 15230-0495
Make sure your request includes your home telephone number, name, Social Security number, and date of birth.

Why would someone opt out — or not?
Some people prefer not to receive these kinds of offers in the mail, especially if they are not in the market for a new credit card or insurance policy. This reduces the mailbox clutter. But please remember, some companies send offers that are not based on prescreening, and your federal opt-out right will NOT stop those kinds of solicitations.

If I decide to opt out, how long will it be before I stop getting prescreened offers?
Requests to opt out are processed within five days, but it may take up to 60 days before you stop receiving prescreened offers.

Will calling 1-888-5-OPTOUT or visiting http://www.optoutprescreen.com stop all unsolicited offers of credit and insurance?
Calling the opt-out line or visiting the website will stop the prescreened solicitations that are based on lists from the major consumer reporting companies. You may continue to get solicitations for credit and insurance based on lists from other sources. For example, opting out won’t end solicitations from local merchants, religious and charitable associations, professional and alumni associations, and companies with which you already conduct business. To stop mail from groups like these — as well as mail addressed to “occupant” or “resident” — you must contact each source directly.

What other opt-out programs should I know about?
The Direct Marketing Association’s (DMA) Mail Preference Service (MPS) lets you opt out of receiving unsolicited commercial mail from many national companies for five years. When you register with this service, your name will be put on a “delete” file and made available to direct-mail marketers and organizations. This will reduce most of your unsolicited mail. However, your registration will not stop mailings from organizations that do not use the DMA’s Mail Preference Service. To register with DMA’s Mail Preference Service, go towww.dmachoice.org, or mail your request with a $1 processing fee to:
DMAchoice
Direct Marketing Association
P.O. Box 643
Carmel, NY 10512

The DMA also has an Email Preference Service (eMPS) to help you reduce unsolicited commercial emails. To opt out of receiving unsolicited commercial email from DMA members, visit http://www.dmachoice.org. Registration is free and good for six years.

Some people have told me they “just throw” the offers away and do not want to take the time to “opt out.” Just remember, these offers can be stolen by mail box thieves and they can then steal your offer and your identity.

On a personal note, while I have not taken this step because I like to see what is coming to people, my husband did register. He seldom gets any offers, but I do.

Make a Smart New Year’s Resolution – Don’t Get Scammed

by Barbara Parrott McGinity, LMSW

It is so easy to get scammed. The con artists are very, very good. Their stories are convincing, they earn your confidence…and we know they are successful because they continue to make money off people who believe them. Let’s try to make 2015 scam free by working hard to follow this advice:

1) There is no such thing as a free lunch! Why do they give you free food? They have your undivided attention and you feel obligated to listen. The free lunch comes with a sales pitch. Save yourself from heartache and heartburn and stop and check on the product and company with the BBB before writing any checks.

2) A nice young man/woman approaches you in the parking lot, gas station, or department store needing money to get home, for diapers, or to visit their sick mother. These are not people in need, they are all con artists. They have a great story and are so pathetic, plus they only need just a few dollars…so why not? They are crooks that is why not! Spend your money on yourself. If you are concerned about homeless people, give your money to a shelter or a non-profit that helps the homeless. Giving money away like this only makes them successful and they will keep up the scam.

3) Stop answering your telephone! Use an answering machine to screen all your calls and tell your friends and family what you are doing. This is the only way to avoid getting caught in a trap to give out money or personal information like your Social Security Number or your Medicare number. If you answer the phone and talk to these people, even briefly, they will keep calling back. Here are some of the most recent scams: a) you have a virus on your computer; b) you owe the IRS money; c) you have won the lottery; d) your doctor wants you to have a knee brace or back brace. What do these things all have in common? They either want you to wire money or give them your banking information or your Medicare number. These are crooks…hang up and stop answering the phone.

4) Talk to your family about the Grandparent Scam. Set up a family code word to ask any callers who say they are a family member in trouble. When asked to keep something a secret, immediately hang up and call your family members to discuss the call. One lady in California sent more than $60,000 to these scammers and did not talk to family members because the scammer told her there was a gag order in place. You should never believe that a stranger on the phone is giving you factual information. Check it out first.

Let’s resolve to work together this year to defeat scammers. Cut this out and discuss with your friends. Together, we just might not only save people from losing their hard earned savings, but we might also put the crooks out of business. Wouldn’t that be nice!

Pension Poachers Prey on Our Veterans

This information can be found at http://www.ftc.gov

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Veterans and their families are a target for some dishonest advisers who are claiming to offer free help with paperwork for pension claims. The scheme involves attorneys, financial planners, and insurance agents trying to persuade veterans over 65 to make decisions about their pensions without giving them the whole truth about the long-term consequences. If you are a veteran over 65, you may be approached by people with convincing come-ons offering to help you apply for supplemental pension benefits. Whether it’s through an ad or a website, the offer usually involves a free seminar and claims, for free, they can help you get the benefits you are entitled to receive.

The people behind these pitches, who may claim to be veterans’ advocates, also show up at assisted living facilities, senior centers, or other places in your community to help you submit your application for Aid and Attendance benefits to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). But often, they’re unscrupulous lawyers, financial planners, or insurance agents who merely rent the space to deliver a lunch or some snacks along with a high-pressure sales pitch for their products and services. The FTC warns that these so-called advisers may claim to be veterans to gain your trust and they appeal to your emotions to create anxiety and apprehension about your future. As a rule, they leave out important details; the truth is that if you follow their advice, you’re likely to end up without the supplemental pension benefits they promise, disqualified from other government benefits, and stuck in a financial investment that’s not in your, or your family’s, best interest for the long term.

The so-called advisers offer to help you complete the paperwork to file your benefits claims. If your assets are above the required threshold, their goal is to convince you to restructure your finances so you can qualify for Aid and Attendance. That’s how they earn their money: by selling you an annuity or creating a trust. For instance, the more money you put into certain insurance products, the more money the insurance adviser gets paid.

Here’s what you need to know:

• Transferring assets. Under current rules, it is not illegal to shift your assets to family members or to a trust to make you appear needy and qualify for Aid and Attendance benefits. But transferring assets can have serious consequences: it can disqualify you for A&A benefits rather than qualify you. If disqualified, you would be required to return any A&A benefits already paid to you.

• Annuities. If you buy an annuity, you pay a premium and then you get regular payments over time from an insurance company. People often use annuities to provide a steady stream of income. But depending on the annuity, if you need money early and have to withdraw it, you may have to pay very high fees.

Annuities aren’t right for everyone: their suitability depends on your age, needs, and particular situation. The FTC advises you to apply for Aid and Attendance benefits by directly visiting the VA’s website at http://www.ebenefits.va.gov. There is no cost for the forms and no fees to apply. Remember, your best defense against someone who wants to poach your pension to get you a better deal is NO Thanks!

FTC Warns about Auto Loan Modification Scams

This information can be found at http://www.ftc.gov

Chances are you rely on your car or truck to get you where you need to go. But if you’re late with your car payments, your vehicle could be taken away from you.

If you’re having trouble paying your car loan and you’re worried about having your vehicle repossessed, you may think that doing business with companies that claim they can reduce your monthly car loan or lease payment can help you avoid repossession. These companies might charge fees of several hundred dollars up front, tout their relationships with consumers’ lenders, and bolster their claims to be able to significantly lower your monthly payments with glowing testimonials from “satisfied” customers. Some say that if they can’t make a deal with your lender, they’ll refund your money.

The promises may sound like a way to get out from under. But the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, says it’s smooth talk by scam artists who are out to take your money and provide nothing in return. In fact, the FTC recently sued companies that made claims like these, but failed to deliver the auto loan modifications they promised or honor the refund policies they “guaranteed.” What’s more, in many instances, the companies never even contacted any lenders.

The victims of these auto loan modification scams tell the same story: After paying a fee for the promise of a loan modification, nothing was done to secure the results that were promised. The scam artists often compounded the problem by telling their clients to stop making their car payments while the companies claimed to be in negotiations with lenders. Some victims learned that the companies hadn’t done anything only after their lender contacted them about repossessing their vehicle. In some instances, the scam artists demanded additional fees to continue working on their client’s cases.

These scams may sound familiar. Some scam artists have taken a page from the mortgage loan modification fraud playbook, moving from trying to dupe homeowners in distress to preying on drivers who can’t make their car payments. The fraud is the same: people pay in advance for a service that is either never performed, or not performed as promised.

If You’re Behind On Your Car Payments

If you are having trouble making your car payments, contact your lender directly to discuss your options as early as you can. The longer you wait to call, the fewer options you will have. Typical auto loan modifications involve either deferring missed payments to the end of the loan or extending the loan term to reduce monthly payments. That choice actually increases the total amount you pay in interest, even with a lower interest rate. Creditors rarely reduce the amount of the principal or the interest rate in an auto loan modification.

If Your Vehicle Is Repossessed

If you don’t – or can’t – make timely payments on your vehicle, your creditor may have the right to repossess your car without going to court or telling you in advance. Your creditor also may be able to sell your contract to a third party, called an assignee, who may have the same right to seize your car as the original creditor.

Reporting Fraud

If there’s a possibility that you’ve been ripped off by an auto loan modification fraudster, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and your state Attorney General.