Someone stole money from your elderly grandmother’s bank account and then took out a fraudulent loan in her name. She got a call from the Social Security Administration and, in order for her benefits to continue, she had to answer a few questions. They mostly just asked her to verify information they already had, so why wouldn’t she trust them? Why, indeed.
Imagine if this happened to your vulnerable family member, or even to you?
The annual Medicare open enrollment period, which typically starts in October and ends in early December, draws out crooks posing as government representatives to try to gain access to bank account information or other sensitive data that will allow them to victimize seniors.
Normally, these type of calls stop in December, but this year aggressive scammers are continuing to target senior citizens.
Operators who are pretending to be calling about Medicare, Social Security or supplemental insurance are making loads of calls designed to gain access to sensitive financial information. Just as is the case with the open enrollment scam, seniors who get tricked into divulging such information then often face identity theft or unauthorized withdrawals from their bank accounts.
The thieves claim that new benefit cards are being issued or that, because of recent changes to Medicare, they require information to update files. Similar to many telemarketing scams that target seniors, the perpetrators are extremely persistent, even forceful and sometimes hostile. Seniors report receiving calls at all times of the day and night and some get call after call after call, even after refusing to provide the information. Some seniors have reported that the callers threaten to suspend their benefits if they refuse to comply and answer questions.
In many cases, the callers already know some information about the seniors, such as bank routing numbers and even Social Security numbers.
It’s important for people to understand that these scams are often operated by offshore organized crime rings. These organizations are often very well funded and are able to obtain information about us on the black market, or even through legitimate data aggregators, so they often already have some personal information about the individuals they are contacting. The criminals reveal this information to potential victims in an effort to prove the call is legitimate, which, of course, it isn’t. Just because a caller might know a little something about you doesn’t mean he’s not a crook.
Neither Medicare/Medicaid nor the Social Security Administration makes calls requesting anyone to disclose financial information. If you get an unsolicited call asking to disclose bank account or other financial information, end the call. Don’t worry about being polite; just hang up. If calls persist, speak to your phone company about calling features that would enable you to be selective in the calls that you accept or receive.
If you are concerned that you or a loved one might have disclosed personal or financial information to one of these callers, closely monitor credit card and bank statements for any suspicious or unauthorized activity. Also, you can place a security freeze or a fraud alert on your credit file if you suspect your information has been compromised. A security freeze means that your credit file cannot be shared with potential creditors or insurance companies. Keep in mind that you won’t be able to open new credit while a freeze is in place, but neither will thieves.
A fraud alert is a less restrictive option but one that may also help prevent fraud. An alert does not block potential new credit but places a comment on your history, so all creditors should contact you prior to opening a new account. To place a freeze or an alert on your account you can call the reporting agencies as follows:
>> Equifax: 800-525-6285
>> Experian: 888-397-3742
>> TransUnion: 800-680-7289
Consumers also are eligible to obtain a free copy of their credit report each year from the three major credit bureaus at www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling 877-322-8228. As always, the BBB urges seniors to call our BBB Senior Line at 877-637-3334 to check out any offers they are considering or to report suspicious solicitations or calls. (Ask for a free refrigerator magnet to keep the number handy.)
Finally, if you or a loved one has received or suspects you have received one of these calls, we encourage you to report it to the FBI as follows:
4411 S. 121st Court
Omaha, NE 68137-2112
Jim Hegarty is president of the Better Business Bureau representing Nebraska and southwest Iowa. To contact him, email email@example.com or call 402-898-8520.