Seniors, Beware – the Scams Never Stop
May 2, 2019
Don't fall prey to predators! With May being Older Americans Month, this warning to seniors is timely.
Fortunately, the con artists and scammers are up against a hardy band of superheroes. Adrienne Omansky's Stop Senior Scams Acting Program ("SSSAP"), founded in 1998, is actively involved at senior centers, libraries, community centers and other venues, offering presentations that use skits to entertainingly inform older adults about senior fraud and ways to prevent it. Be sure to check them out on Facebook.
In March of 2018 Omansky, who can be reached at SSSAP4U@gmail.com, testified for the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging.
"The year has gone by fast," she said. "The Stop Senior Scams actors have met hundreds of seniors and their families. We heard and read numerous accounts of senior fraud. I thank all the seniors and their families who have shared their stories and our seniors who were there to educate and open communication. Peer-to-peer education does work. We look forward to our upcoming programs." Their PSA is scheduled to launch, appropriately, on May 15th, which is Senior Fraud Awareness Day in Los Angeles and also nationally, as designated by the U.S. Senate.
Dr. Sherry McCoy, PhD, an actor in SSSAP and writer for Not Born Yesterday, shared that according to Jim Borland, Acting Deputy Commissioner for Communications, Social Security Administration, there's a new phone scam this year aimed at stealing seniors' personal identity information.
The scammer calls and claims to be from the Social Security Administration or some other government agency. Scammers can even change the caller ID number to show Social Security's actual customer service number, (800) 772-1213. The purported reason for calling could be some problem with your social security number, they need more info from you in order to increase your benefits, certain questionable activity has been detected and your account may be frozen, and so forth.
"You may be a target, but you don't have to be a victim!" McCoy emphasized, urging seniors not to engage but to hang up and call in a report to the Office of the Inspector General at (800) 269-0271. Additionally, those who feel they've been the target or victim of a scam can call the Federal Trade Commission, (877) 382-4357 or the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office, (213) 974-3512.
According to Micki Nozaki, Director of California's Senior Medicare Patrol ("SMP"), whom Omansky cited as a very helpful contact, "Medicare fraud is high on the list of scams targeting our older adults and persons with disabilities. Although there are many types of Medicare fraud, deceptive hospice enrollment and fraudulent genetic testing are among the most current, and medical equipment fraud is rampant across the country."
Typically, a Medicare beneficiary will either respond to a TV ad or receive a call from a scammer masquerading as Medicare and will then divulge the Medicare number, believing a back or neck brace will be sent and paid for completely through Medicare.
In reality the scammer is a marketer who forwards the senior's Medicare number to various equipment vendors. Shortly thereafter the senior receives several packages with braces and medical supplies that the senior never requested, but the vendors, however, submit claims to Medicare under that senior's Medicare number, Medicare pays, and the senior then is billed for a percentage of the charges.
SMP educates seniors to help them avoid becoming victims of scams, and provides assistance in cases of fraudulent billing. "We are grant funded from the Department of Health and Human Services and all of our services are free of charge," said Nozaki. "We have a toll-free hotline number, (855) 613-7080, and we are available to conduct educational seminars about Medicare fraud throughout the state."
For further information, Nozaki can be reached at (949) 215-5660. California Health Advocates runs California's SMP, and the website is cahealthadvocates.org.
Omansky mentioned that two prevalent scams that seniors should be aware of are the "virtual kidnapping" scam, in which parents and grandparents are targeted, and the "you hit my car" scam.
The virtual kidnapping scam is based on speed and fear. Screams or crying may be heard in the background, the idea being to keep the terrified victim on the phone and get the person to wire the money before there's an opportunity to confirm that the child is safe somewhere and has not been abducted.
In March two Laguna Beach families were called and told one of their children had been kidnapped and would be killed if not ransomed. In one case, police were able to confirm the safety of a woman's daughter before the mother sent any money. However, in the other, a father wired $5,000 before learning his daughter was safe. The wealth of personal information on the internet is a goldmine for scammers, who then have access through social media to information they can use in their schemes.
In the "you hit my car" scam, a student in Omansky's commercial training class shared that she "was driving up the street and a man in a white car beside me was waving for me to pull over and yelled out the window to me, 'Don't make this a hit and run!' He had a raspy voice like an old-time gangster, and said, 'You swerved into my lane and hit my car. Look!' Sure enough, there was black paint on the left front fender and white paint on my right rear bumper. He ran his finger along the scratch on my bumper, seemingly proving that there was fresh white paint on it. Looking back, he may have had white powder in his pocket to orchestrate his scam."
After pretending to be on the phone with his father, trying to figure out how much it would be to fix his car, he then told her he'd need $500. Interestingly, although he said he was from San Francisco and didn't know the names of L.A. streets, he knew the locations of all local ATMs.
They drove to a nearby ATM and she ended up giving him $300. "In hindsight," she said, "I was the perfect target: a vehicle with scratches and marks and a senior citizen who did not want to deal with insurance companies. In retrospect, I realize I should have driven directly to the sheriff's station and that would've been the end of it."
As a personal note, this wary writer has received many phony calls regarding "free" back braces, freezes on my social security card, calls requesting verification of credit card numbers and, of course, the good old scam where Microsoft calls about a virus having been detected on my computer. Please be aware that the telephone is not always our friend. Con artists are very adept at scamming unsuspecting seniors, so please protect your personal information. The scams keep coming and this article provides only a tiny sample, so memorize the ABCs of survival: ALWAYS BE CAUTIOUS.