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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

Watch out for these new scams

Oct 29, 2019 10:58AM ● By Karen Telleen-Lawton

I regret there will never be a shortage of scams. This morning’s news featured a real estate scam that robbed a single mother of the money she had saved for her first house. After wiring her down payment money to a crook claiming to be the seller’s bank, she lost it all. She has resorted to living in her parents’ basement with her young children for the foreseeable future.

The consequence of all your personal data being available online is that you have to be vigilant. If an email looks suspect in any way, find the party’s phone and email by an independent internet search and contact them yourself.

Protect your data

Money isn’t the only thing fraudsters are after. Data—your personal information—is extremely valuable. One fraud making the rounds recently is a genetic testing scam. If you fall for this through a telemarketing call, health fair, or knock on the door, your first bad news will be discovering that the “free” genetic test you took is not free. Medicare does not pay for any testing that is not medically necessary. You’ll be responsible for the cost, which could amount to thousands of dollars.

However, the scammer's ultimate goal is more devious: your Medicare number. With that, they can steal your identity, causing you more headaches, time and money, as well as cheating the federal government. If you receive a genetic testing kit in the mail, return it unopened unless your doctor ordered it. If you suspect Medicare fraud, call 1-800-MEDICARE. Medicare wants to shut these down as quickly as they pop up, to protect you and all of our tax dollars.

What you can do

There are ways to protect yourself against any frauds threatening to take away your marbles. Take full advantage of the safety checks offered by legitimate services. The USPS, your phone server and your financial institutions all have developed ways to ensure you know with whom you’re dealing. The post office, for example, has a new free service called Informed Delivery. They can send you a daily email containing digital scans of the mail and packages you can expect in the next day or two. Then you’ll know if you’re missing something.

Protecting your Medicare and Social Security numbers, as well as other personal information, is not as simple. Trusted doctors and your own financial creditors and debtors should be the only ones who have access. Even then, this should be strictly limited. Don’t be afraid to politely refuse when people request your private information in any other context.

Taking steps to block robocalls will reduce the chances you’ll be suckered into a scam.

You can sign up for the federal Do Not Call Registry (888-382-1222) by calling from the phone number you want registered. Or you can contact your phone service providers; many have programs aimed at reducing telemarketing calls. You can also find private robocall blocking services to help with your mobile phone. Before you choose a third-party service, however, be sure you check their reviews on the internet (not on their website) to make sure they are legit.

Ask for help

You may not feel like your financial institutions always have your back, but they have a vested interest in protecting your privacy. A visit to your bank branch or website will show you just how many protections and tips are available for your use.

One such worthwhile bank service is an alert (by email, text or automated phone call) whenever your debit or credit card has been used. You can set different trigger amounts for various credit cards if you don’t want to be notified for small dollar purchases.

Two-step authentication is another good way to keep robbers one more step removed from your accounts. It will take you a few seconds longer to access your accounts but adds an extra layer of security.

Finally, consider signing up for a password manager. This type of software creates complex passwords for each of your needs and stores them securely. You only need to remember one password, which then supplies the appropriate password for each site. This type of third-party password service generally is low cost and includes fraud alerts and other security features.

The recent book “Scam Me If You Can” by Frank Abagnale offers even more advice. You may consider some of his suggestions a pain and a bother. But so are brushing your teeth and many other tasks you complete more or less without complaint daily. Simple strategies can help us outsmart scam artists, reduce stress and help us keep our information and money safe.

Learn more

Read up on veteran-specific scams here.

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