I sat in on a Fraud and Exploitation Prevention workshop at an Alzheimer’s and other Dementias Caregiver’s Conference last week. I’ve been worried that Mom will fall for a phone or mail scam that will wreak havoc on our lives, so I signed up for this workshop with the hope of picking up some tips to protect her from crooks and opportunists.
I don’t think like a criminal, and I grew up with idealistic views that are hard to shake, about how people treat each other. So even now at the age I’m at, when I’ve learned the worst of the worst of what people do to each other, it’s still difficult for me to understand how and why terrible things happen to innocent people at the hands of fellow human beings. How someone’s good nature and naivety can be manipulated and taken advantage of for the purposes of stealing. How the people who do these things justify them and sleep at night.
This session was so valuable. The presenter was Melanie, a young Attorney who works for the New York State Division of Consumer Protection. She was extremely knowledgeable, demonstrative, and horribly funny. She had us captivated. Here’s what I learned:
- Some of the common and current scams include notifications from the IRS, Jury Duty notices, and Car Warranty Expirations.
First, the IRS will NEVER call prior to sending a notice in the mail, and will NEVER ask for your social Security Number over the phone. A call from “The IRS” sounds serious and frightens people in to complying with requests. A friend of mine said someone from “The IRS” showed up at her door and started asking question about their finances. THE IRS WILL NEVER SHOW UP AT YOUR DOOR, especially unannounced.
Secondly, people are receiving mail or phone notices that they have failed to show up for Jury Duty and are required to pay a $1000 fine or face jail time. Melanie got a call from a Police Department in Elmira NY saying that there was a 94-year-old man there with his suit case insisting on going to jail because he didn’t have the $1000 to pay the fine for not showing up for Jury Duty, which he didn’t even remember receiving a notice about. The officer had many unsuccessful attempts at trying to convince the man that it was a scam and that he was not required to go to jail. The Police Department finally called Melanie’s office to get help with convincing this man the he was free to go. He would not accept his freedom saying that he had never been to jail, and really wanted to stay. So Melanie told the PD to book him and put him in the holding cell with his suit case. He was a happy 94-year-old who didn’t lose any money. I’m sure that the people who sent these villains money were not so satisfied.
Thirdly, there is a car warranty scam going on. Some scoundrel called Melanie at work and tried to scam her. Melanie works with Investigator Bob. She got Bob’s attention and he put a trace on the call while Melanie provided this woman with bogus answers to her intrusive questions. Before long, Investigator Bob was doing a victory dance in the corner of Melanie’s office because the trace was successful. Sadly, the scammer was a young mother in Ohio. While her three and five-year kids took their naps in the afternoons between 2-4 pm, she attempted to bilk people out of their hard-earned money. The scamming mother is now doing time in prison. Good for us. Bad for the mother, AKA swindler, and her young children.
- Melanie emphasized that these scams don’t necessarily target the elderly. In fact, the group that is most at risk for identity theft are the under-aged. She said this group can be protected by putting a “block” on their identity until they’re 16, at which age they can legally begin working. I didn’t pay attention to the details about how to do this, but calling the division of consumer protection is the way to find out. The phone number for NYS Consumer Protection division will be at the end of this post. The next group at risk is 16-32 year-olds. Then the elderly, and back to middle-aged people. We all need to beware.
An extremely important way to monitor our identifies is to check our credit reports three times each year. This is easy. Go to https://www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action and click on “Request yours now”. Follow the prompts, answer the questions, and you’ll have your report in about 3 minutes. If you’re checking for a parent, you’ll need their social security number, date of birth, and will have to be able to answer some questions that pertain to them. I had my mother’s, husband’s and mine in about 15 minute, which included printing. The three credit reporting companies are obligated to give anyone who requests their report a free one each year. So, since there are three credit reporting companies, Melanie advised to request one report every 4 months, rotating through the three companies. This will ensure that a close eye is kept on your financial status and identity related to loans, credit cards, lines of credit, etc., and to give you a head start if your identity is being messed with. I did this nine years ago….WAY TOO LONG! It’s on my calendar to get our reports from the next company in 4 months.
- Call credit companies and set parameters on your credit cards. We all know that they increase our lines of credit in the hopes that we’ll charge more and pay more in monthly interest. Make them set limits.
- This I never knew…but if you are on a site and see a picture of a lock and the web address starts with HTTPS, then you are on a secure site. I took notice when I logged on to my bank account and there they were…the picture of the lock and the HTTPS. I will be checking other sites where money may be exchanged.
- “Do Not Call Registry” has been around for a very long time. Go to the site to see if your phone(s) are registered. I put my cell and home numbers in and found that both have been registered for years. I’d forgotten, but it was good to know now. I also found out that if you receive unwanted telemarketing calls, you can report them on “The National Do Not Call Registry”. I reported one today that told me I was the lucky winner of a Caribbean Cruise. Unfortunately (or not, depending on your endurance), we can’t block or legitimately report political calls, because the people who signed these laws to protect consumers are politicians. They weren’t going to include themselves! We are in an unprecedented era this year for receiving political robo and live calls. Some are fun…some are not.
- In addition to the “Do Not Call Registry”, you can prevent any number that is blocked or unregistered from ringing your phone. If the caller is legitimate, they will unblock their number and call back. If it’s a scammer, they won’t be able to unblock their number because their numbers are bogus. This will prevent that guy from calling that mentions Microsoft and urgently tells you that there is a problem with your computer. I think everyone has gotten calls from these thieves. The only way to do this is by contacting your phone company and having them place the block on your number…simple.
In New York State, the Division of Consumer Protection, Consumer Assistance Hotline number is: 1-800-697-1220. They are a wealth of information and are willing to help. I’m sure each state has a similar office.
So, in looking for information at this Caregivers Conference to protect my mother from being scammed, I learned so much more about how to protect myself as well.
I thought about how our fight-or-flight instinct is primitive to protect us from predators like lions and tigers and bears, but our modern times have taught us to be fearful of our fellow humans. The wild animals are not the enemy they once were…we need to be wearier of our own kind.