2013 Fraud and Scam Alerts
Sadly, while reports of scams and fraudulent activity were initially included with news items of interest on the site, it became clear that there were enough reports to merit a page of their own. Now we've collected enough to separate them by year.
Tennessee seniors deserve better than to be victimized in what should be their golden years. The best defensive strategy is knowledge and awareness of criminal behavior. It is much harder for con artists to succeed if you shut them out. Visit this page regularly for tips on the latest scams, targets, and appropriate responses. In almost every case, the headline for each warning is a link back to the full, original report.
The Better Business Bureau maintains its Scam Tracker online. You may also find useful information on AARP's Scams and Frauds and Fraud Watch Network pages, as well as this site's own page on combating fraud. For information on reporting Medicare fraud, visit STOP Medicare Fraud's Report Fraud page. Additionally, reports and tips regarding fraud are available online from the Office of Inspector General and the Federal Trade Commission.
And if you're here because you've already been a victim (or think you may be a victim) and want to know how to respond, visit: Scammed. Now What?
Senate Aging Committee Launches New Anti-Fraud Hotline
The United States Senate Special Committee on Aging made the following announcement this week:
"If you or someone you know suspect you’ve been victim of a scam or fraud aimed at seniors, the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging has set up a new toll-free hotline to help.
"The hotline was unveiled today to make it easier for senior citizens to report suspected fraud and receive assistance. It will be staffed by a team of committee investigators weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST. The investigators, who have experience with investment scams, identity theft, bogus sweepstakes and lottery schemes, Medicare and Social Security fraud, and a variety of other senior exploitation issues, will directly examine complaints and, if appropriate, refer them to the proper authorities.
"Anyone with information about suspected fraud can call the toll-free fraud hotline at 1-855-303-9470, or contact the committee through its website, located at http://www.aging.senate.gov/fraud-hotline."
Added November 14, 2013
Cookeville Regional Medical Center Warns of Prescription Renewal Phone Scam
The story now appears unavailable online, but according to a past report in Cookeville's Herald-Citizen, a scam that has recently come to Cookeville has already been associated with other hospitals around the country. Those attempting the scam target elderly patients, claim they are with a local medical center (in this case, CRMC), and inquire about renewing a prescription. Given the nature of the scam, a phone call, this could happen anywhere.
The phone number associated with the scam is 866-218-7985. That number is a red flag. Of course, the call could come from another number in the future.
Cookeville Regional does not make calls or offer services of this kind. The safest approach to take if someone calls about prescription renewal and asks for personal information is to hang up. You can make the contact yourself if you need to renew a prescription.
Added November 1, 2013
Updated November 10, 2015.
This scam does not affect everyone with a cell phone. Not all cell phone models have a SIM card. That said, the story illustrates again the need to protect personal information. This scam works when people give away sensitive information, like social security numbers, without knowing the person to whom they are giving the information.
You are the ultimate guardian of your personal information. Don't be afraid to ask questions when someone wants you to share it. When called, don't be afraid to hang up on someone if a situation doesn't feel right. Don't be afraid to say no, and if you feel you have already been victimized, don't be afraid to report it.
Added October 24, 2013
The National Council on Aging (NCOA) has provided a short, but essential, list of tips for avoiding fraud. Both the Medicare Open Enrollment period and the new health insurance Marketplaces make this an especially active time for scam artists; they see many new opportunities—many new potential victims. The best way to protect yourself is to know what to avoid.
Added October 23, 2013
One of Tennessee's own SHIP coordinators, Vickie Thompson, has helped the Federal Trade Commission as a witness in a case against an alleged prescription drug discount scam operating out of Wisconsin (but targeting seniors nationwide, including Tennessee residents). Charges have been filed, and a federal judge has ordered an end to the scheme and the freeze of all related assets.
Read more at "FTC Cracks Down on Bogus Medical Discount Scam Targeting Seniors" and watch a news report out of Memphis.
Great work, Vickie!
Added September 17, 2013
Free $1500 Security System Is Not Free
This is yet another attempt made on one of our own staff members, although it turns out the call is one documented elsewhere online. The number begins 973-273-XXXX, which is apparently out of New Jersey, although the number could change, especially as word gets around. Regardless, the caller may be introduced as a representative of "GE Security Systems," or something similar. That should raise a red flag.
While there is a GE Security division of General Electric, it does not sell to individuals, does not telemarket, does not go door to door. Anyone could claim to be selling GE Security systems, but they would not be affiliated with GE. (You could buy a couple dozen cans of Pepsi and sell the cans door to door, but that would not make you a Pepsi employee, right?)
In this specific case, the caller suggests that a $1500 security system can be had for "free" with a $40/month monitoring fee and a 36-month contract. With very little effort, legitimate businesses selling the same GE systems can be found offering monitoring for as little as $19/month. The other difference, of course, is that those businesses do not call you; they wait for you to call them.
The Federal Trade Commission provides good information on avoiding home security system scams. Be suspicious of aggressive sales agents. Be wary when contacted by strangers over the phone looking to sign you to a contract for a service you did not request. Never give personally identifying information or financial information to someone you do not know. And remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Very little is "free" in life. If you want a home security system, do your research, choose a company with a good reputation, and call them yourself.
If you receive the call described here, hang up.
Added September 9, 2013
Smyrna Police Warn Residents About Two Scams
From News Channel 5: "Smyrna police want to warn residents about two new scams targeting senior citizens. The first comes in the form of a letter that looks like it comes from Publisher's Clearing House. The letter states the recipient has won $1.5 million."
"Police also said to be on alert for a scam involving a phone call selling "green dot" money cards in order to get a cash prize. Smyrna Police Chief Kevin Arnold said one man lost $10,000 in of these scams. His advice: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is, so be cautious."
"Anyone who thinks they may have been targeted by scammers should call Smyrna Police at 615-459-6644."
Added September 6, 2013
One of our own staff members has reported receiving a red flag call, apparently originating from Buffalo, New York. The caller was claiming to offer $3000 worth of groceries through a new government program for seniors. All our staff member had to do was provide "a little information." The information she gave them was that, "There are no free groceries programs for seniors sponsored by the government." She then hung up.
Remember: If a stranger calls with an offer you do not recognize or that sounds too good to be true, your best response is to end the call.
Added September 5, 2013
Express Courier Scam
The Council on Aging of Greater Nashville has sent out a reminder of the following scam:
"This scam begins when the senior receives a phone call from 'Express Couriers' asking if the senior is going to be home, as there is a package for the senior and it will be delivered in one hour. Adding credibility, the courier arrives in an hour in a uniform with a basket of flowers and wine. Attached is a note indicating that a $3.50 fee must be collected as proof that he/she has actually delivered the package to an adult (since alcohol is involved) and not just left on a doorstep. The courier then states that the company requires the fee be paid with a credit/debit card on a mobile card machine. If using debit, the senior is also required to enter his PIN or security number.
"By the next week, several thousand dollars are withdrawn from the senior’s account at various ATM machines or charged to the credit card. The information collected on the mobile device allowed the scammer to create a 'dummy' card."
This scam is several years old, and the original perpetrator committed the crime outside the state of Tennessee and was arrested and charged. The risk now is that others will adopt the same scam closer to home, perhaps under a different name or possibly changing the details. The important thing to remember is to be wary of sharing your credit/debit information with anyone you may have a reason to doubt. When in doubt, turn the person away.
Added August 1, 2013
Scammers Offering Prizes and Gifts
Putnam County residents have reported to police that, in addition to the medical alert device phone scam, someone is now calling potential victims about fictional prizes and contests. One man was supposedly a Publisher's Clearing House winner, but he knew he had not entered and questioned how he could have won. The caller became abusive and vulgar when a family member intervened.
Remember, in cases like this there is nothing wrong or impolite about hanging up. If in doubt about the legitimacy of a call, just end it. If a caller persists, notify the phone company and the police.
Added July 24, 2013
State Warns of Driver's License Phone Scam
The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security is warning of yet another phone scam, this time involving driver's license renewals and a caller requesting the potential victim's Social Security number.
Government offices will not contact you this way—will not call and ask for something like your Social Security number. The best rule of thumb is that if you do not make the call and know with whom you are speaking, you do not provide personally identifying information when asked. You hang up and report the call to the police.
Added July 19, 2013
CBS News briefly discussed with Consumer Reports senior editor Mandy Walker the risks presented by home, mortgage, and investment scams. The report states that 5 million older Americans fall victim each year to such scams, with losses to Americans over age 60 totaling $3 billion.
Added July 19, 2013
Con Artist Poses as Dish Network; Roane County Couple Sees Through Scam
As reported by Don Dare for ABC News Channel 6 out of Knoxville, an attempt was made over the phone to con a Rockwood couple out of roughly $700. A man claiming to be a Dish Network representative, and one who had knowledge of the couple's account and payment information, made an offer that claimed six months of free service and a free movie channel would follow if the customers paid six months in advance. They knew better and did not give the man any payment or personal information. They also verified with Dish Network that the offer was not legitimate.
Remember, you cannot always trust caller ID. If you are suspicious of a caller, there is nothing wrong with hanging up. A legitimate offer can be verified by calling a number on a document you trust, like a billing statement from the company with which you have an account.
Added July 19, 2013
Medical Alert System Telephone Scam
Another telephone scam is targeting seniors in multiple states. A member of our staff has now received one of these calls. DO NOT provide sensitive personal information to a stranger contacting you by phone. Nashville News Channel 5 is reporting this month (July 2013) that the Better Business Bureau has received numerous complaints about this scam, which involves the claim that someone the victim knows, possibly a doctor or family member, has arranged a "free" medical alert system. The scammer then requests bank and credit card information. If you receive a call like this, say nothing and hang up!
Added July 16, 2013
Attempts to Steal Medicare Beneficiaries' Personal Information By Phone
Recent reports from Medicare beneficiaries in the Southwest portion of the state indicate that someone is attempting a telephone scam, masquerading as a Medicare employee and seeking to acquire a person's Medicare card number. That number is also the person's Social Security number! (Medicare is one of the few agencies still using a person's Social Security number as an account number.) However, while Medicare does contact patients by mail, they will never call about account information. That type of call should trigger only one response: Hang up immediately!
A more detailed description of the scam may help protect you from becoming a victim. Remember, always be cautious about the personal information you share, especially in response to a request by someone who calls or emails you. If you do not make the call yourself, you cannot be sure of the identity of the person communicating with you. Caller IDs can even be faked! And email should never contain valuable personally identifying information, such as a social security, credit card, or banking number; there is no good reason to ever include any of those in an email message.
Tennessee SHIP partners with Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP) to assist with Medicare fraud and abuse. You can contact a SHIP representative at 1-877-801-0044.
Added June 14, 2013