Category Archives: Financial Exploitation

Prevent College ID Theft

“Identity theft can affect penniless students as much or more than their parents,” said Michelle L. Corey, St. Louis BBB President and CEO. “Sometimes all thieves want is to exploit your clean credit record. By establishing good habits for monitoring and detecting fraud, students can establish healthy financial habits for the rest of their lives.”

BBB recommends that college-bound students take the following steps to fight identity theft on campus:

  • School mailboxes are not always secure and often can be accessed easily in a dorm or apartment. To combat sticky fingers in the mailroom, have sensitive mail sent to a permanent address, such as a parent’s home or a post office box.
  • Important documents should be stored under lock and key. This includes your Social Security card, passport and bank and credit card statements. Shred any paper documents that have sensitive financial information rather than just tossing them out. Also shred any credit card offers that come in the mail.
  • Never lend your credit or debit card to anyone, even if they are a friend. Just say no if your friend wants you to cosign for a loan or financing for items like a TV.
  • Make sure your computer, laptop or tablet has up-to-date antivirus and anti-spyware software. Always install any updates and patches to your computer’s operating system or browser software, which help keep your computer safe from new schemes or hacks by identity thieves online.
  • Always check your credit or debit card statements closely for any suspicious activity. The sooner you identify any potential fraud, the less you’ll suffer in the long run. Getting your statements online is more secure, but make sure you actually look at the statements.
  • When shopping on unfamiliar websites, always check the company out first with BBB. Look for a BBB Accredited Business seal along with other trust seals; click on the seals to confirm that they are legitimate.
  • Check your credit report at least once a year with all three reporting bureaus for any suspicious activity or inaccuracies. You can do this for free by visiting http://www.annualcreditreport.com.

Excerpted from: http://www.bbb.org/stlouis/news-events/news-releases/2016/07/bbb-tips-to-help-college-students-protect-against-id-theft/

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How Do People Get My Information?

By Barbara Parrott McGinity, LMSW

This is one of the most frequent questions I get from people, and my response to is always “we give it to them.” Here are some examples of the many different ways we freely provide information to scam artists.

1) Endless robo calls asking you to press 1 for more information or press 2 to get off their list. The typical reaction is to press 2 to get off the list, but in reality you are confirming that this is a good phone number with someone who answers the phone and follows instructions. Your number is added to a list then sold to the actual scammer who makes a live call to someone they perceive as a potential victim.

2) Legitimate looking spam offering the ability to unsubscribe. When you click that option and put in your email address you are actually putting yourself on a list to get alot of unsolicited offers that never stop. The other trick is receiving emails that purport to be from UPS or Fed Ex, referencing a failed delivery, and you have to click “here” for more information. The bottom line is never click on any link in an email until you have verified the validity of the source.

3) The Internet should come with a the daily warning “Use with Caution.” We surf and search for information but schemers are also searching for us. Far too often, when people are looking for specific information on issues related to insurance quotes or home equity loans and mortgages, they are asked to complete information in a pop up window to be allowed access to the information. Never put in a phone number or other personal information in a pop up window or on a website until you understand how this information will be used.

3) Using Craigslist to trick people into providing contact information. You have an item for sale and receive an email from an interested party asking if you will send your private email address for communication purposes. If you are familiar with Craigslist there is no reason not to use their encrypted service. So why are they asking for your email? They want it to put on a list to sell to spammers and scammers.

4) Then there is the old fashion way, reaching folks via mail. To find individuals vulnerable to sweepstakes scams letters are sent out promising riches for just a return of $10. The group that sends in $10 gets a letter asking for $20. Then the individuals who sent $20 are compiled into a list sold to telemarketers who then call the victims on the phone, gain their confidence, and start asking for money to get their millions.

It is important to stop and think before responding to any situation that requires you to provide any personal information. It will come back in some way you are likely to regret.

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 http://www.cfpb.gov.

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.

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<http://owaadminportal.jimdo.com/&gt; 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
Annabella

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.
Thanks.
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, http://www.staysafeonline.org, 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. Consumerreports.org in a recent Scam Alert lists these resources you can check out.

1) The Federal Trade Commission’s “Pass It On,” http://www.ftc.gov, 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, http://www.cfpb.gov.

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, http://www.sec.gov

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.