Open Enrollment Medicare Card and Social Security Number Phishing Scam Alert

Scammers are posing as Medicare saying they need your Medicare card number or Social Security Number to issue a new card or to verify medical information to keep your coverage active. The calls may also claim that coverage is expiring or in need of renewal. During Medicare Open Enrollment and all year, hang up on these unsolicited calls!

Listen to Attorney General Donovan’s Scam Alert call

Why they are calling:  This scam attempts to gain access to your Medicare card number or social security number to commit Medicare fraud and identity theft. 

What to do:  Never provide personal information or payment to unknown callers. Vermonters must be particularly cautious about this scam as the calls originate from a spoofed number, appearing as a local phone number on your caller ID, and the scammer is a live caller.

With open enrollment ending this Saturday, scammers may be trying to capitalize on consumers who are reevaluating or adjusting their Medicare coverage. Fortunately, consumers don’t have to navigate the Medicare process alone. In Vermont, representatives of the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) at 1-800-642-5119 through local Area Agencies on Aging can help. Other questions and concerns about Medicare coverage can be directed to Medicare at 1-800-MEDICARE.

Please help us stop these scams by sharing the information with someone you know. If you have questions about this scam, or have provided personal information to the scammers, please call the Consumer Assistance Program at 1-800-649-2424.

More Resources:
Federal Trade Commission: Protect Yourself Against Medicare Scams
Medicare Open Enrollment Scam Alert by the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation
Medicare.gov

Contributing Writer: Crystal Baldwin

Don’t forget to file your Equifax claim!

Were you impacted by the 2017 Equifax Data Breach?

Don’t forget to file your claim and take advantage of free credit monitoring services! The deadline to file a claim is January 22, 2020. If you would like to exclude yourself from the settlement, comment, or object to the settlement, the deadline is November 19, 2019.

For more information about deadlines and filing a claim, visit the Equifax Data Breach website. If you were affected by the breach, you’re eligible for free credit monitoring or up to $125 cash payment.

Want to know if you were affected by the Equifax data breach?

Visit the Equifax Data Breach Settlement website to find out.

“I was affected by the data breach. Should I worry about identity theft?”

A breach does not necessarily mean you are a victim of identity theft. A breach means you are now susceptible to identity theft.

Identity theft is the unauthorized use of another person’s personal information to obtain credit, goods, services, money or property (for more information on Vermont laws regarding privacy and data security, click here).

Identity theft may involve fraudulent use of credit card or bank account information. In some cases, your social security number and other personal information may be used to fraudulently obtain driver’s licenses, lines of credit, loans or other consumer accounts.

Additionally, you may want to consider placing a security freeze on your credit reports. This is the most effective step you can take to block unauthorized use of your personal information. However, it does carry some costs and can create some minor difficulty if you need get a loan, credit card or other credit account. A security freeze does not affect your ability to use accounts that you have now. Find out more about freezing your credit files below and from the Federal Trade Commission.

Concerned about protecting your minor children from identity theft?

The Federal Trade Commission has excellent resources on child credit protection.

For the latest information about the Equifax Data Breach, visit the Vermont Attorney General’s website or the Federal Trade Commission’s website.

Charity Fraud Awareness Week

October 21-25, 2019

Charity fraud is, unfortunately, all too common. But don’t be discouraged. You can still make your charitable giving count by following the tips below to identify the bad actors from the good:

Tip #1: Do your Research

Visit websites like Charity Navigator or the Better Business Bureau Charity Information for Donors to learn more about a particular charity. If you receive a call asking for donations, ask questions like:

“Who are you and what is the name of this charity?”
“Where is the charity located?”
“How would my donation be used?”
“Are you a paid fundraiser?”

Tip #2: Learn about Paid Fundraisers

Some charities hire paid fundraising companies to help them solicit donations. In Vermont, any charity using a paid fundraiser must register with the Vermont Attorney General’s Office, and report how much of the donations received go to the fundraiser. Visit the Attorney General’s website to learn more and access donation information, or call the Consumer Assistance Program: 800-649-2424

Tip #3: Spot the Scam

Scammers use phone calls, mailings, door-to-door solicitations, and emails to trick people into “donating” to their “cause.”  

  • Phone calls: Scammers will pressure you to give money right away. They might ask you to send cash or wire money, and they will not give many details about what the donation is for.
  • Mailings: You might receive a letter in the mail thanking you for a pledge you never made. This is a signal that the mailer is a scam. If you receive a mailer that you’re unsure about, do your homework by searching online, or call the Consumer Assistance Program.
  • Door-to-door: When someone knocks on your door to ask for a donation, the pressure is on. Remember that you are under no obligation to give. Ask for more information and do your research. If you cannot get legitimate information about the charity, odds are it is a scam.
  • Emails: Think before you click! Phishing emails look similar to messages from legitimate sources and use email addresses that seem familiar. Be cautious with suspicious emails and call a charity directly if you have questions. Don’t use a phone number on the suspicious email; look it up separately.

Some common charity scams in Vermont include:

  • Pastor imposter scams: a scammer posing as a local religious leader asks you to donate to a cause using gift cards via email.
  • Fire or police organization imposter scams: a scammer calls asking for donations to a local or national first responder organization. If you get a suspicious solicitation, hang up the phone and call your local firefighter or police station to get more information.
  • Disaster scams: Scammers ask you to donate to a charity that provides relief for people who have experience natural disasters, except the charity doesn’t exist or they are impersonating a real charity. Always do your research before giving money or personal information.

Tip #4: Call the Consumer Assistance Program!

If you feel unsure about a charity solicitation or believe you have donated to a scam, call the Consumer Assistance Program! The Consumer Assistance Program can help identify warning signs, provide paid fundraiser information, and help you recover from scams.

Consumer Assistance Program: ago.vermont.gov/cap or 800-649-2424

Medical Cancer Swab Screening Scam

Consumers have reported receiving calls or online solicitations for free medical cancer screening kits in exchange for Medicare information. While cheek swabs are used in common screenings for illnesses and genetics, unprompted and unsolicited calls or online advertisements for free cancer screening kits are a scam.

Phone. Often this scam begins with a phone call, letting consumers know that their doctor has referred them for a free cancer screening kit. The caller then asks for Medicare information, claiming their insurance will cover the kit. The cancer screening kit does normally arrive at the home of the consumer but it typically does not go to a cancer screening facility, or if it does, consumers are required to pay out of pocket.

Internet. This scam can also originate as an online advertisement. The advertisement will state consumers can receive a free cancer screening kit. Clicking on the advertisement will bring consumers to a separate page to provide contact information as well as insurance and Medicare accounts.

Medical swab and screening scams poster

Signs to spot a cancer screening scam:

  1. An unsolicited phone call or internet advertisement stating qualifications have been met for a free cancer screening kit.
  2. The products claim Medicare or other insurance providers will cover the cost.
  3. Often described as free in exchange for Medicare information
  4. The seller claims a doctor has approved a referral for the cancer screening kit.
  5. Personal identifiable information (Medicare information, Social Security Number, Date of Birth) is requested.

Never provide personal information over the phone or online if you’re unsure where this information is going or you were contacted without request. If you receive a cancer screening device without requesting one or provided your Medicare information to an unknown scammer, call Medicare right away to report fraud at 1-800-MEDICARE.

If you or anyone you know has engaged with a scam, please contact the Consumer Assistance Program at 800-649-2424.

Contributing Editor:  Alexandra Esposito
Content Editor:  Crystal Baldwin

Sources: AARP
Medicare
OIG Department of Health and Human Services

Vermonter of the Month: Bess O’Brien

Vermonter of the Month is a monthly series in which the Attorney General will feature a Vermonter doing exemplary work in their community. Have someone you think should be featured? Email AGO.CAP@vermont.gov.

Bess O'Brien with TJ Donovan
Bess O’Brien with Attorney General T.J. Donovan

Our August Vermonter of the Month is director, producer, and arts activist Bess O’Brien—Vermont’s truth-teller.

Bess began working in film when her husband Jay Craven hired her to produce his first short movie High Water. From there, she went on to co-produce Where the Rivers Flow North and A Stranger in the Kingdom before starting to make documentary films.

Through filmmaking, Bess has shined a light on issues affecting Vermonters. Her recent filmsComing Home, All of Me, and The Hungry Heart—depict important issues like reintegration into communities after incarceration, body image and eating disorders, and the opioid and prescription drug crisis in Vermont.

In December, our office hosted a screening of Bess’ film Coming Home for staff. The film follows five Vermonters returning to their communities after being incarcerated. It highlights the amazing work that the Circles of Support and Accountability (COSA) program is doing in Vermont—helping people reintegrate into their communities and showing the power of compassion and empathy.

In 1991, Bess and Jay established Kingdom County Productions (KCP). The nonprofit’s focus expanded in 2009 to include performing arts; bringing shared arts-based community events to the Northeast Kingdom. Today KCP is dedicated to “transforming community through film, performance, and experiential learning.”

We met up with Bess at the Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival to ger her perspective on the importance of storytelling in Vermont.

You’ve been described as “Vermont’s truth-teller.” What inspires you, or drives your passion for this work?

I am interested in telling stories that go to the root of the problem, whether it be drug addiction, incarceration, foster care, etc. I want to hear voices from people who are often not seen and are invisible. I want their voices heard. By telling their stories change can begin to happen.

Why is documentary filmmaking and the arts, in general, important in a rural state like Vermont?

Because Vermont is small, telling stories and sharing the lives of people who are often silenced can make a difference. We are a small state so a documentary film that tours to 15 towns can truly start a conversation!

Why did you and your husband Jay create Kingdom County Productions?

To tell stories that are rooted in Vermont.

How do you strive to transform “community through film, performance, and experiential learning?”

By bringing the arts to rural areas and to folks who often don’t experience the arts it raises awareness and forms a strong community.

What advice do you have for other Vermonters looking to make an impact in their community?

Tell the truth, talk to people who are outside your comfort zone, have empathy and raise people’s voices!

Bess O’Brien with Attorney General T.J. Donovan