Financial scams, new and old, try to trap consumers

By By Claudia Buck

The Sacramento Bee (MCT)

Published: Monday, Sept. 16 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

Vice President Joe Biden, accompaned by Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairman Jon Leibowitz, announces that companies promising over the phone to reduce your credit card or other debt can't charge you a fee until they do their job, in this Thursday, July 29, 2010, file photo.

J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

Hang up, shut it down or toss it out. That’s the advice for consumers amid a new wave of financial scams circulating by phone, mail and online.

Some are seasonal, tied to what’s in the news, like Obamacare. Others are perennials that seem to sprout up regularly.

Regardless of how they arrive, they’re highly bothersome, if not potentially financially disastrous. Here are some that have been making the rounds lately:

‘MEDICARE’ CALLING: Four days in a row last month, the same early-morning calls woke up Corin Gomes’ 85-year-old mother. Each time, the caller asked her to “verify” personal information, including her name, age, address and bank account number, in order to receive a free medical I.D. card for seniors. The caller, claiming to be from Washington, D.C., said the new government-issued card would cover any medical expenses not covered by Medicare.

Recovering from a stroke, the Elk Grove, Calif., resident wasn’t sure how to respond. That’s when Gomes took charge of the 6 a.m. calls, which she quickly determined were coming from a cellphone in South Florida, not the nation’s capital. She also discovered the company, GMY, had been flagged by the Better Business Bureau in multiple states.

On the company’s fourth call, Gomes picked up the phone. “I told them to never call back again. They were arguing with me: ‘But we’re trying to protect her against unscrupulous people!’ ”

It’s a common scenario.

“We probably get at least a call a day about Medicare (scams),” said Cailin Peterson, spokeswoman for the Northeast California Better Business. Sometimes the caller claims to be from Medicare and needs to update personal financial information, such as bank account or Social Security numbers. Others promise new benefits or services that require confirming personal data.

“It’s been around awhile but we’ve seen an increase with the Affordable Care Act coming into play,” said Peterson. “There are a lot of scam phone calls about Obamacare. They tell people: ‘It’s coming; be sure you’re signed up; we need your bank account so we can put money in to pay for your health care.’ ”

Consumer complaints about fraud attempts tied to health care reform became more apparent in 2012, according to the Federal Trade Commission, which issued a warning about health care scammers earlier this summer.

Peterson’s advice: Hang up on unsolicited callers who ask for your bank account information. Do not accept offers of “free” medical services, medic-alert bracelets or other items in exchange for your Medicare number. Always remember: the “government” will not call, text or email to ask for your Social Security number or address. (It already knows.)

TECH SUPPORT ‘HELP’: Another fraudulent phone ruse is callers who claim to be from a “Microsoft tech support” or a “Windows help desk” team, saying they need to resolve a computer problem, update your customer account or install a security fix. What they really want is to nab your credit card info, install malware to steal your user name/passwords, or gain remote access to your computer.

Jane Knight’s father, a 91-year-old former math teacher, fell for a phony Microsoft call this summer, handing over his computer passwords, Social Security number, mother’s maiden name and credit card numbers. The caller, sounding professional and thorough, said Microsoft was checking for a computer virus, which required confirmation of passwords and other details. There was also a fee for the so-called “service.”