Monthly Archives: July 2013

Get Paid to Drive Around!!! What a deal…NOT

Today I got this interesting email that sounded like a quick, easy way to get paid $500 a week for just driving my car.   Here it is:

Hello,

We Advertise company products on cars, Vans, Trucks, e.t.c (Car Wrap) So, car owners can make money from wrap advertisement.  However, We are mostly looking for people who drive on regular basis,if you are qualified and you drive to work or if you drive for fun, then vehicle wrap advertisement is for you.

Please send us an email with your name, city you live in, car make and year.  Compensation:  $500 weekly payment.  Looking forward to doing business with you.  Send all Automobile details to:  David.Fisher@carwrapadvertisement.com.

First clue this is a scam:  poorly written and incorrect grammar.  Does not sound very professional does it?  Secondly, why would a stranger pay me…a stranger…to advertise their product.  What if I am a terrible driver and people cuss at me on the road?  Would not be a favorable impression of whatever product my car is advertising.

In doing a bit of research, this is a rather new email scam, but the bottom line is that in some form or fashion they will be asking me to wire money.  The reports I read state that the scammers send you a large cashier’s check and you are to wire back the difference.  Of course, the cashier’s check will be fake and you will have to pay back the money the bank gives you.

Two big red flags that are common in every scam: 1) it is too good to be true; and 2) you NEVER pay money to get money.  Best advice, just DELETE!

Barbara Parrott McGinity, LMSW

UPDATEI sent an email asking how does the program work and I received the reply below.  Can you point out the verbage that tells you this is coming from overseas and is written by someone who is not a native English speaker.

First, you once again notice the capitalization errors.   Notice the use “advert.”  Americans do not use the term “advert,” we say “ad” when talking about advertisements. 

Then this is for a company that makes biscuits?  When do we use the term “biscuit” when talking about cookies?  Then finally, poor grammar and sentence construction.

Be smart and notice the patterns and always delete these email offers…as they are too good to be true!

“Thanks Barbara.
Our company is one of the most innovative Advertising agencies with clients all over the world.We have a target to advertise so many products for a number of companies mostly in USA,as a whole and we also have representatives in this regions.

The ads are typically vinyl decals, also known as “auto wraps,” that almost seem to be painted on the vehicle and which will cover any portion of your car’s exterior surface.

What does the company get out of this type of ad strategy?

Lots of exposure and awareness. The auto wraps tend to be colorful and eye-catching and attract lots of attention. Plus, it’s a form of advertising with a captive audience,this means people who are stuck in traffic can’t avoid seeing the wrapped car alongside.

We work as an advertising agent and we will be doing the advert for the new company which will be producing biscuit which includes cookies, crackers, and cereals. The advert will be a small sticker which will be placed on your car and we need someone in your state who will be dedicated to doing this and be rest assured you will be paid promptly.

However,We are mostly looking for people who drive on regular basis,if you are qualified and you drive to work or if you drive for fun, then vehicle wrap advertising is for you.

This program will last for 3 months and the minimum period you can participate is 1 month.

We shall provide experts that will handle the advert placement on your car. You will receiving a weekly payment of $500 and this payment will be sent as an upfront payment to you for allowing us place the advert on your car.

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Hurricanes bring out the Scammers – Be Prepared

Hurricane season means being prepared for a disaster and that includes NOT being scammed when dealing with home repair issues.  Before doing business with anyone you should always check with the BBB first.  Make sure they do not have a history of unresolved complaints and check their rating by calling 713-868-9500 or going online at www.bbbhouston.org.

Other important points to remember include:

1)      Always get more than one estimate, three are best.   Getting three estimates is more than getting three prices, it is evaluating the companies approach to the job and how they interact  with you…more like an interview than a commitment.

2)      Do not sign any papers without completely understanding the entire document.  Don’t let people talk you into signing anything you do not fully agree with, no matter what they say.  Once you sign the dotted line, you have agreed to everything in the contract.

3)      Make sure you both agree on how the job will be paid.  Maybe you pay the full amount at the END or you pay as the job goes along, but you DO NOT make a final payment until the job is completed to your satisfaction.  Do not be bullied into paying when you are not happy.  And never fall for the trap of paying because the company needs to buy supplies.  Most likely, they will take your money and disappear.

4)      Work with your insurance adjuster independently.  Some contractors and roofing companies try to convince you that they can save you time and trouble by working directly with your insurance company.   The trouble is you may be letting them rip off your insurance company which comes back to hurt you in the long run.  Some companies will increase the supposed damage in order to get more from the insurance company, when the actual repairs would be less. 

5)      Disasters bring out the storm chasers, both good and bad.  Be smart, stick to a plan on how to deal with contractors, and always check with the BBB first or contact me at 713-341-6184 or bmcginity@bbbhou.org.

Barbara Parrott McGinity, LMSW

Avoiding Investment Scams

by Barbara Parrott McGinity, LMSW

We would all like to think that we could spot a scam easily. Unfortunately, most of us cannot!  Here is a link to a news story from the US Postal Inspector about how easily one man lost $400,000 to someone asking him to invest in his start-up business.

http://www.wkyt.com/news/headlines/Consumer-Alert-Startup-scam-costs-man-400000-214665741.html

Con artists are friendly people. They look professional and appear successful, and they are not always strangers. Some contact us through church groups or ethnic associations. Others are people we know as friends and neighbors. You can lose a lot of money if you fall for an investment scam. How do you avoid having this happen?

There are some principles to follow:

1. Buy only from licensed or credentialed financial professionals. Stockbrokers and investment advisers must be licensed to sell you stocks, bonds, and mutual funds, for example. Avoid buying investments from persons who are not licensed to sell those products. See the Resources section, below, regarding checking out financial professionals.

2. Review your account statements. Check all statements when you get them and notice the details, including all changes to your investments. Make sure your correspondence is sent to the investment firm’s official address. Ask questions right away about anything that seems incorrect, unauthorized, or unclear. If your investment company’s broker or adviser refuses to comply promptly when you ask to withdraw money from your account, does not provide proper statements, or does not give satisfactory answers to your questions, complain in writing to authorities. See the Resources section below for information on how to do this.

3. Buy investment products that you have chosen and checked carefully. Stick to buying investment products that you have sought out yourself and investigated carefully. Buy products you can understand, after you have reviewed written details.

4. Make sure you are buying registered investment products. Most legitimate products have to be registered with the SEC and in the state of sale (see the Resources section below). Check them before you buy.

5. Ignore spam email and “hot tips.” These types of messages are sometimes meant to trap unwary investors. Hot tips can come from people you know, or be left as “accidental” messages on your answering machine. Fake websites and blogs are sometimes set up to provide false information about investments.

6. Be careful if you are invited to invest by phone, at a meeting, or at a social event. Get details about any investment in writing, and be sure to check them out. Never make a snap decision when you are first approached with an investment idea. If someone pressures you to buy quickly, offers to send a messenger to pick up your money, or claims that the offer is only good “right now” – just say no.

7. If the promoter says it’s practically a “sure thing” – don’t buy it. All investments carry some level of risk. Don’t buy into any product if the salesperson says there is no risk to it, even if you like and trust that person. A salesperson can be the victim of a scam, too.

8. Never make an investment payable to the salesperson. Always make your payment to the investment company.

In addition to paying attention to the red flags of fraud, it is critical that you ask questions about the investments and the people who are pitching them, and then verify their answer. Always check out an investment.  Ask if it is registered, and if so, with which regulator.  Most investors will want to buy securities products that are registered with the SEC or with the Texas State Securities Board.  With very few exception, companies must register their securities before they can sell shares to the public.

Check out the investment professionals to see if they are registered or licensed to sell products.  Here are the regulators to contact:
1)  For a broker or brokerage firm: FINRA BrokerCheck at http://www.finra.org/brokercheck or 800-289-9999.
2)  For an investment adviser:  SEC’s Investment Adviser Public Disclosures at http://www.adviserinfo.sec.gov or 800-732-0330.
3)  For an insurance agent:  Texas Department of Insurance, http://www.tdi.texas.gov or 800-252-3439.
4)  For all sellers:  Texas State Securities Board at http://www.texasinvestored.org or 888-663-0009.

Save and Invest.org

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, otherwise known as FINRA, and their Investor Education Foundation has a wonderful website with lots of information on investment fraud.  At http://www.saveandinvest.org, you can learn about controlling your debt, saving for your future, how to protect your money, and some basics of financial literacy.

The Better Business Bureau has partnered with FINRA to educate consumers about investment scams as part of a program named, “Tricks of the Trade: Outsmarting Investment Scams.”  An interesting and entertaining video, it provides insight to the psychology of a scam and the techniques con artists use to steal your money. http://www.saveandinvest.org/ProtectYourMoney/AboutFraud/P124313

You can also use tools on the website to see if you are at high risk for investment scams.   Here is a link to the risk meter, http://apps.finra.org/meters/2/riskmeter.aspx.

Take a look at this video that describes the right and wrong way to handle a call from an investment scam artist. http://www.saveandinvest.org/ProtectYourMoney/AskandCheck/

Knowing how scams work and thinking through how you will handle a potential con artist are truly the most important ways to save yourself the heartache of losing thousand of dollars.

Barbara Parrott McGinity, LMSW

 

Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) imposes first ACA Enrollment Moratoria to Combat Fraud

Last Friday, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services known as CMS, announced a moratoria on home health care companies and ambulance services in three areas of the country.  The Greater Houston area is one of those where the moratoria will effect people applying to be ambulance providers.

How did it get to this?  Houston has been one of the top places in the country for healthcare fraud for a very long time.   Harris County was the epicenter for the Scooter Scam.  In 2001, Medicare paid for 3,000 scooters vs 31,000 in 2002.  But Medicare fraud in the Houston area goes beyond durable medical equipment like scooters, it includes home health care fraud, ambulance fraud, and group-psycho therapy fraud.

What has been and still is an ongoing investigation, is how residents of group homes are taken by a van to day centers and Medicare is billed for ambulance rides and mental health services that are not provided.  Several indictments related to this fraud have already been administered and trials and convictions will be coming.  But the number of private ambulance providers is unbelievable.  Here is a link to a detailed story that appeared in the Houston Chronicle about this issue in October 2011.  http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/Some-Ems-companies-taking-Medicare-for-a-ride-2220817.php

Now, nearly two years later, CMS is putting this moratoria into place.  http://www.cms.gov/Newsroom/MediaReleaseDatabase/Press-Releases/2013-Press-Releases-Items/2013-07-26.html

Hopefully this will help the situation, but these individuals who defraud the Medicare and Medicaid system work overtime to find billing vulnerabilities in both programs to rip off not only taxpayers but the beneficiaries by stealing their healthcare dollars.  It is important that beneficiaries understand what fraud and abuse looks like and they report all suspicious behavior.

Barbara Parrott McGinity, LMSW

Confusion over Health Insurance Exchanges is a Goldmine for Scammers

written by Barbara Parrott McGinity, LMSW

Would you give out your banking information or social security card to someone who calls you on the phone and states they are a federal employee? With the roll out of the new health insurance exchange as part of the Affordable Care Act, the Better Business Bureau wants to warn you about the potential for a number of scams designed to steal your money and your identity.

The con artists are always looking for new opportunities to trick you.  They will take the confusion over health care reform law, usually referred to as ‘Obamacare,’ and turn it into ready cash by any means possible.

The Texas Senior Medicare Patrol has been dealing with these scams targeting seniors for years,  “Since the Affordable Care Act passed in 2009, we hear the same story year after year, that seniors are called and told they need a new Medicare card.  Seniors need to know not to give out any personal information to anyone calling on the telephone.  Medicare will not call you and they do not need your banking information to provide you Medicare coverage.

Understanding the scams can help you not be a victim. Here are some of the most common scams and what you can do to avoid them.

 1) A caller claims to be a federal employee and states you have been chosen to be among the first to receive a new federal health insurance card under the Affordable Care Act.  To receive this card they just need a little of bit of information, including, of course, your social security number and your bank account numbers.  There is no national insurance card.  And they will use the  individual mandate portion of the law, requiring most Americans to obtain health insurance, as a means of scaring you into providing personal information.

2) Seniors are one of the major targets of telemarketing scams.  The Affordable Care Act has made  few changes to federal health care for seniors, but the scam artists use the term “Obamacare” to trick them.

Enrollment for the health insurance exchange is starting in the same time frame as Medicare Open Enrollment in October, and seniors will continue to be targeted by people tricking the them into revealing their Medicare numbers.  Seniors need to understand that the insurance exchange does not impact their Medicare in any way and they need to hang up on people who try and tell them differently.

 3) Fake online websites have already been popping up.  The best way to fine your state exchange is to go to http://www.healthcare.gov.  Do not do a “search.”  You will get alot of fake websites.  Be safe and make sure you are on the correct website.  Do not enter personal information in pop up windows and be suspicious of unsolicited inquiries.

There is one surefire way to spot a bogus insurance sales scam is when they use the name ‘Obamacare.’ If somebody is trying to sell you ‘Obamacare’ insurance, you know right away you need to hang up the phone or shut the door.”

The best way to protect yourself is to always verify before you provide any information.  Never respond to an unsolicited inquiry until you verify the identity of the inquiring party.  You can look for information at http://www.bbb.org or check with the Texas Department of Insurance at http://www.tdi.texas.gov.  And Seniors should contact the Texas Senior Medicare Patrol at 888-341-6187 if they have questions or concerns about calls they are receiving.

The Telephone is NOT Your Friend!

written by Barbara Parrott McGinity, LMSW

Think back to those long ago days when the telephone was your family’s lifeline to the world.  I remember when my grandparents, who lived on a farm in Wharton County, got their first phone back in the early 1950’s.  It was a party line and I was always amazed that my grandmother could tell the rings apart.  Plus I laughed when she groused about the neighbor who was always eavesdropping.

But it was a very big deal because we could now talk directly to them plus they had a way to reach out if there was an emergency.  The only people calling in those days were friends and family.  Sadly, that has changed tremendously in our fast  paced world with ever changing technology.

On my landline at home, I would venture to say that 95% of the calls I get are from someone wanting to sell me something, asking for a “charitable” contribution, or the scammers wanting to steal my money and my identity.  The phone has changed from being our lifeline to friends and family to a sales tool, and more importantly, it gives crooks and thieves a safe way to steal from you while you sit comfortably inside your house.  The scammers want either your real money or want to steal your Medicare dollars and that is why seniors are such a target.

What can you do?  First, use your answering machine to screen your calls.  In other words, never answer the phone unless you hear a message from someone you know.  Secondly, prepare a script.  Think through how you handle these calls and prepare something in writing.  Here are some ideas for you:

  • If the call is from a charity, tell them to send you info in writing.  Be sure and add that you do not give money to strangers over the telephone.
  • If they are selling something, ask for information in writing.  If this is a one time opportunity, tell them you do not make decisions over the phone.  And repeat that they should send the information to you by mail.
  • Ask the caller for their name, the name of their company, and their call back number.  Tell them you will get back to them after you verify the offer.

Most importantly, LISTEN for these red flags:

  • Are they asking for credit card information?
  • Are they asking for banking information?
  • Are they asking for personal information like your Medicare or Social Security numbers?
  • Offer is only good today.  A real company will give you time to think and verify.
  • They know something about you but need to verify the correct information.
  • If any of these are happening…HANG UP!

If you have questions about any offers or calls you get, feel free to contact me at 713-341-6184.