Beware of Email Scams during the Holidays

by Barbara Parrott McGinity, LMSW

If you have an email address, you most likely get countless emails from retailers, organizations, and companies. Much of this unsolicited email, or “phishing” email, comes from someone you have done business with through an online purchase.

Falling victim to “phishing” emails is easy if we do not pay attention and exercise caution. When you are instructed to click on a “link” provided in an email, you need to stop and think before taking action. Read the email carefully and make sure you check the source before clicking on anything.

A common trick, is to get you to “unsubscribe” from an email list. Often times, these are scams that are searching for good email addresses. If you click “unsubscribe” then you are actually confirming your email and putting yourself on a list to get even more bogus offers.

Here are a few of the most common email scams you will see over the holidays:

Complimentary Vouchers or Gift Cards
A popular holiday scam is big discounts on gift cards. Don’t fall for offers from retailers or social media posts that offer phony vouchers or gift cards paired with special promotions or contests. Some posts or emails even appear to be shared by a friend (who may have been hacked). Develop a healthy dose of skepticism and “Think Before You Click” on offers or attachments with any gift cards or vouchers!

Bogus Shipping Notices From UPS and FedEx
You are going to see emails supposedly from UPS and FedEx in your inbox that claim your package has a problem and/or could not be delivered. Many of these are phishing attacks try to make you click on a link or open an attachment. If you do click then your computer will be infected with a virus or even ransomware which holds all your files hostage until you pay $500 to release your files.

Holiday Refund Scams
These emails pretend to come from retail chains or e-commerce companies such as Amazon or eBay claiming there is a “wrong transaction” and you are prompted to click the refund link. You are then asked to complete a form with personal information that can be sold to cyber criminals.

Some finals points:
• Never use an insecure public Wi-Fi to shop with your credit card. Only shop with a secure connection at home.
• NEVER pay online with a debit card, only use credit cards. Why? if the debit card gets compromised, the bad guys can empty your bank account quickly
• Microsoft will never call you and say you have a virus on your computer. This is a scam to steal your money and get access to your computer files.

Shopping online is easy and convenient, but be wise and be careful.  Report phishing and spam emails to the Federal Trade Commission at

Managing Someone Else’s Money

by Barbara Parrott McGinity, LMSW

Last April, the New York Times published an story title “As Cognition Slips, Financial Skills are the First to Go.” The article states that several studies show the ability to handle simple math and financial matters are the first skills one loses with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Then there are other studies that demonstrate that an individual’s ability to handle financial matters can begin to decline in their 50’s.

Here are some startling statistics. There are 44.7 million people 65 and older, representing 14 percent of the population, and this number will grow to an estimated 66 million in 10 years. This older population has trillions of dollars in wealth, and they are frequently struggling to manage their own finances as they become increasingly vulnerable to financial exploitation.

As people are living longer, well into their 80’s and 90’s, who ends up being the primary caregiver…most likely aging children! One advisor quoted in the New York Times article said he wished that when people reach 65, they would simplify their investments. But what we have are 65 years olds managing both their own finances and the finances of parents and loved ones who no can no longer handle even the basics of paying monthly bills. In other words, it doesn’t get less complicated only more complicated.

Becoming the financial caregiver can be challenging. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has developed a set of guides to help you “Managing Someone Else’s Money.” These guides provide information on:

• Agents under a power of attorney
• Court-appointed guardians of property and conservators
• Trustees
• Government-benefit fiduciaries (Social Security representative payees and VA fiduciaries).

The guides help financial caregivers in three ways: they walk them through their duties, they tell them about protecting their loved ones from financial exploitation and scams, and they tell them where to go for help.  But be aware, that your power to oversee an individual’s finances does vary from state to state so make sure you know the rules in Texas and use the guides to assist in your decision making. You can always find an Elder Care Attorney through the Texas Bar Association to help you with the appropriate legal documents for Texas. The guides are available at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau website, at

Sweetheart Scams Target Lonely Elderly via the Internet

by Barbara Parrott McGinity, LMSW

Finding that perfect match online is something we hear about commercial after commercial. Young people are often very successful in meeting Mr. or Ms. Right, but older adults are frequently targeted by swindlers who steal thousands of dollars from them while breaking their heart.

There was a recent article in the New York Times describing one woman’s experience with an online dating service. Her email conversations with someone who said they were a German business man were warm, caring and engaging. He wanted someone just like her in his life to travel with and see the world. A confident woman with whom he could share his life. She was hooked.

And once a swindler knows their target has swallowed the bait, the request for money begins. Maybe they have a sick mother and just need a little help. They have cancer and their funds are running short. They are always in a foreign country, so maybe they need to get home to “die” in their arms, so please send money. This one woman, over a period of several years, sent over $300,000 to her online soul mate.

Online dating services are not the only way these swindlers find their target. Social media is another area where you have to exercise caution interacting with strangers and even people you think are your friends.

Social media websites like Facebook are a great way to connect with long ago friends. Your class reunion or high school Facebook page connects you with pass friends and this can include past loves. All of a sudden that long lost love, the one that got away, is back in your life. Making you smile, you feel like you are 16 again experiencing that first kiss. But, they are not that old flame, they are a con artist preying on your vulnerabilities to steal your money.

Be very careful how you connect with people over the Internet when you are unable to meet them in person. Do not respond to strangers who seem to know you but you cannot remember them. And most importantly, the minute anyone asks you for money…cut off all contact. There is absolutely NO reason you should ever wire money overseas to anyone, no matter how well you think you know them.

Watch out for your friends and family. If there is someone in your life who is talking about this wonderful person they met online, talk to them about the dangers of online dating. They may not believe you because THEIR special person is the exception and would never harm them. Ask them if they have ever sent money and what would they do if they were asked. They may not listen or want to listen, but it is always worth a try if you can save them the heartache of losing not only their money but their confidence.

Beware of Scams and Fraud during Medicare Open Enrollment

by Barbara Parrott McGinity, LMSW

It is that time of year again, open enrollment for Medicare Part D and Medicare Advantage plans takes place from October 15 to December 7. Because it is so important that you review your Medicare Part D plans and your Medicare Advantage plan (if you have one) every year, I am repeating this column from last year.
This is your opportunity to review your current health needs and make adjustments based on your needs and your healthcare costs. But it is also an opportunity for scam artists and unscrupulous people to take advantage of you so here are some pointers on what you should and should not do.
You should always shop for a drug plan each year. Plans change more than the cost of their premiums; they also change the drugs they cover. You need to make sure you are getting the best price for your medication by going to for your search. Get a family member to help if you don’t use the Internet or call the Area Agency on Aging at 832-393-4301 and speak to a qualified Benefits Counselor.
What you should NEVER do, is give personal information over the phone or in person to a stranger just because they are telling you Medicare is changing. All the information you need to now from Medicare comes to you in your Medicare and You Handbook every October. There are no “new” Medicare cards, there are no “new” drug cards, so hang up if you get one of these calls.
You should also evaluate your overall health care costs and decide which is best for you, traditional Medicare or enrolling in a Medicare Advantage plan. When it comes to Medicare Advantage plans, Medicare has strict marketing guidelines that insurance agents and plans must follow. Agents and or brokers:
• Cannot say they are from Medicare or imply that Medicare endorses them,
• Cannot solicit by going door-to-door,
• Cannot send unwanted emails or voicemails or call you unless you have asked to be called.
• Cannot approach you in a parking lot, lobby, mall, or other common areas.
• Cannot approach you in an exam room, dialysis center or pharmacy counter.
• Cannot provide meals at sales presentations.
• Cannot conduct marketing or sales activities at an educational event.
• Cannot market non-health related products such as life insurance during educational sessions.
• Cannot offer you a gift worth more than $15.

You should also be aware of changes to Medicare in The Affordable Care Act. Benefits rolled out in 2012 but, remember to watch out for scam artists. Change brings confusion and scam artists are standing by to capitalize on that confusion.
If you are unsure about a phone call or want to check out a company, please call me first at 713-341-6184. If you need assistance to enroll in a Part D plan, you can contact the Area Agency on Aging by calling the United Way Information and Referral Hotline at 211 and asking for the local number. We want you to be safe…not sorry.

Educated Employees are the First Line of Defense in the Fight Against Data Hacking

by Barbara Parrott McGinity, LMSW
BBB Education Foundation

Data Breach! System has been hacked! Personal information stolen! From the IRS to Chase Bank to Blue Cross Blue Shield, we are reading about security systems being infiltrated by criminal hackers every day. How can this happen? Hackers seek out weaknesses in your computer system and one of those weaknesses can be untrained personnel who mistakenly click on the wrong email.

Here is one recent email from my inbox:
Today, 3rd June, 2015. We are upgrading our email system in order for our email server to be compatible with the newer versions of software 2015 spam filter. This service creates more space and easy access to email. Please update your account by clicking on the link below. Click for Activation
CLICK HERE<; And follow the instructions on the pop-up page for upgrade
Failure for any user to do this will render his/her account inactive.
Thank you,
IT Support Desk

Another example:
Hi my name is Annabella
my resume is pdf file
I am looking forward to hearing from you
Yours faithfully

Both of these emails demonstrate how systems are breached, they require the recipient to get more information through the click of their mouse, one has a link and the other has an attachment.

Every day, we receive numerous unsolicited emails at both work and home. Some of it from sources you have done business with or ordered products from, while others come from unknown sources. Often you give that information away by putting information into pop-up windows, handing out business cards, or responding to unsolicited emails.

A couple of weeks ago I received a very simple, seemingly innocent email:
Hi Barbara:
For us newbees can you give me the crossroads for the location of the garden sale.
Jan LeCates
Your first instinct might be to reply, “What garden sale?” And that is what the sender was hoping for, because this type of email is looking to confirm good email addresses which then get sold to people sending the spam. For me it was easy to hit the delete button because I knew I was not going to a garden sale and I do not know Jan LeCrates. But what would your employee do?

The National Cyber Security Alliance has a website,, that provides information for businesses on cyber security. This includes accessing your risks, protecting customers, and education tips for employees. Here is what you need to pass onto your employees:

  • Keep a clean machine: Your company should have clear rules for what employees can install and keep on their work computers. Make sure they understand and abide by these rules. Unknown outside programs can open security vulnerabilities in your network.
  • Follow good password practices: Making passwords long and strong, with a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols, along with changing them routinely and keeping them private are the easiest and most effective steps your employees can take to protect your data.
  • When in doubt, throw it out: Employees should know not to open suspicious links in email, tweets, posts, online ads, messages or attachments – even if they know the source. Employees should also be instructed about your company’s spam filters and how to use them to prevent unwanted, harmful email.
  • Back up their work: Whether you set your employees’ computers to backup automatically or ask that they do it themselves, employees should be instructed on their role in protecting their work.
  • Stay watchful and speak up: Your employees should be encouraged to keep an eye out and say something if they notice strange happenings on their computer.

The hackers are getting better, more sophisticated, and more difficult to catch. Everyone needs to be vigilant, stay alert to cyber threats, and never assume things are as they appear. Protecting your business by taking the time to educate your employees is the best way to defeat these criminals.

Programs and Tools to Protect Seniors from Financial Exploitation

by Barbara Parrott McGinity, LMSW

In June, I attended an event in Washington, DC for World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. The focus was on financial exploitation, with a number of presentations and individuals addressing this growing problem. Seniors and their families lose nearly $3 billion a year to a number of different scams that can involve phony charities, people representing themselves as IRS agents demanding tax payments, sweepstakes fraud, and scammers pretending to be grandchildren asking grandparents to wire funds because they are in jail in a foreign country.

It is estimated 1 in 44 cases of money scams and financial abuse of seniors is actually ever brought to the attention of authorities. It is extremely difficult to catch these criminals because the majority are overseas. But these cases often go unreported because people are ashamed or they are being threatened by the scammer and they fear for their safety and the safety of their loved ones.

Knowledge is power when working to protect your income and assets. There are a number of resources and programs available to older adults and their family members that not only educate people about the scams, but also offer tools that can provide some protection. in a recent Scam Alert lists these resources you can check out.

1) The Federal Trade Commission’s “Pass It On,”, focuses on six scams that individuals should learn about and inform others about as well.

2) The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Office of Financial Protection for Older Americans website has information for seniors and a link to help report complaints or concerns. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau also offers four different guides for attorneys, government-appointed fiduciaries, guardians, and trustees, called “Managing Someone Else’s Money” which can be ordered at no cost on their website,

3) The Securities and Exchange Commission, has a number of brochures, including “A Guide for Seniors: Protect Yourself Against Investment Fraud,” and “Stopping Affinity Fraud in Your Community,” focusing on money scams that prey on members of identifiable groups such as religious organizations available from their website,

4) The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau sponsor a program called “Money Smart for Older Adults: Prevent Financial Exploitation,” which is an instructor-led training curriculum for older adults and their caregivers.

5) FINRA, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, has a dedicated helpline for seniors to assist with their questions and concerns regarding brokerage accounts and investments. It is open Monday through Friday from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm Central Time, 1-844-574-3577. Open since April, they have received over 540 calls.

The best defense is a good offense. Take the time to arm yourself with the knowledge you need to understand how financial exploitation occurs. Education is the only way we can truly put an end to this problem as the scammers are getting better and we need to be prepared. If you would to schedule a group presentation from the BBB Education Foundation staff on scams and fraudulent business practices, call me at 713-341-6184.

Change in Medicare Numbers can be Bonanza for Scammers

By Barbara Parrott McGinity, LMSW

Good news! Congress passed a bill in April 2015 to replace the Social Security numbers on Medicare cards with a randomly selected number. They have four years to set up the system for new cards, and four more years to reissue cards to current Medicare beneficiaries. Bad news! Scammers will exploit this information to confuse older adults in an effort to get them to give out their Medicare information over the phone.

The calls will likely sound like this; “Hello, this is Medicare and we have good news for you, we are changing your Medicare number and it will no longer be your Social Security number. This will make you safe from identity theft. BUT, before we make the switch, we need to verify your current information.” Big red flag that this is a scam, asking you to verify information.

Whenever you get a call or email from someone asking to verify information, especially personal information like Social Security Numbers, bank account numbers or credit card numbers, it is a scam. They may have a little information about you, but they need more to complete the picture. The information they are asking from you is the piece of the puzzle they need to complete their file on you; and they will take this information and either steal your identity or bill Medicare for items and services you do not need.

As the October Medicare open enrollment date approaches, the scammers start calling and use a number of tricks to confuse people. Barbara Parrott McGinity, Program Director for the Texas Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP) advises you to “to never give any kind of personal information to anyone who calls you on the phone, no matter how convincing they sound. Remember that Medicare and Social Security and the IRS will never call you on the phone.” Be alert to potential scams. Do not fall for calls, postcards, or emails that offer to help you get your new Medicare card.

Contact the Texas Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP) if you have any questions or if you would like to receive information about how to protect, detect and report fraud and abuse at 1-888-341-6184.