Stay safe online this Valentine’s Day!

Looking for love online? The Consumer Assistance Program is here to help you make sure that your personal information and money are secure!

Romance Scams

How it works: The scammer creates a fake profile on a dating site or app. They may also initiate contact through Instagram, Facebook, Words With Friends, or Google Hangouts. Then, the scammer strikes up a relationship with their victim, gains their trust, and maintains sustained contact.

Spotting the scam: The scammer spins a story and asks you to send them personal information or money. They may ask you to send gift cards, mail cash, or wire them money via Western Union or MoneyGram.

What to do: End all communications with the scammer. Block the individual and/or report them to the website or app company. Do not send money or reveal personal information such as: social security number, bank accounts, credit card numbers, photo of your driver’s license, etc. If you have sent money or given the scammer access to sensitive information, call the Consumer Assistance Program.

Source: Federal Trade Commission

For more information about Romance Scams, see our blog post from February 2018.

Sextortion Emails

How it works: You receive an email from an unknown source. The message claims that they know your passwords and have planted malware on your computer. They claim that the malware has captured evidence of all your computer activity – including sensitive photos or visits to adult websites.  They threaten to share this evidence with all of your email or social media contacts. The scammer demands hush money in the form of gift cards, Bitcoin, or wire transfers.

Spotting the scam: The message might look generic and have numerous typos. They demand that you respond quickly, maybe within 24 hours. The passwords they claim to have appear to be old or may be log-in information you use for a website.

What to do: Do not reply to the message. Do not send money or personal information. Change your passwords to ensure your online security, especially if a website you use has recently experienced a data breach. Do not click on any links or attachments on the email. Make sure that your antivirus software is up to date.

Adult Website Pop-Ups

How it works: You are visiting an adult website when a pop-up message appears. The pop-up might be flashing or include sound. The pop-up may claim to be “Windows Support” or state that “Your computer may have a virus!” It is designed to pressure the user into a sense of panic. The message might prompt you to call someone for technical assistance.

Spotting the scam: Real computer tech support specialists will never ask you to call them in this manner. The pop-up may demand immediate action, payment, or prompt you to download something.

What to do: Turn off your computer and disconnect from the internet. Make sure that your antivirus software is up to date and functioning. If necessary, you may decide to seek out assistance from a trusted tech support professional.

Remember: some scammers are betting that topics of romance and sex can be sensitive or even embarrassing. Please don’t let these feelings keep you from calling CAP to get help! The reality is that we regularly hear from consumers who have been affected by these scams. Pick up the phone and give us a call if you feel you may have been scammed: 1-800-649-2424.

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

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

Help Stop Service Member Charity Scams

Scammers will say just about anything to get your money! Unfortunately, this includes pretending to be charities. For Military Consumer Month, we’d like to share some information about how you can securely give to legitimate charities who support our service members, and avoid scams.

For more information, watch and share this video produced by the Federal Trade Commission: https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/audio-video/video/stop-veteran-charity-scams

If you receive a charity solicitation over the phone, ask questions!

As noted in our post from November 2018, it’s important to do your homework before giving. Here are some steps you can take:

  1. Research the cause before donating. Helpful websites, like Charity Navigator and the Better Business Bureau’s Giving Wise Alliance (BBB), have information on charities.
  2. Double-check solicitation mailing addresses and phone numbers. Ask fundraising callers to mail you the solicitation first, so that you can check the contact information.
  3. Look for paid fundraiser information. A paid fundraiser is a third-party solicitation company that, aside from the fundraising campaign, is not affiliated with the charity.  This means that a portion of the funds raised are split between the charity and the soliciting business.  Vermonters can ask if a third-party fundraiser is involved. For information about paid fundraisers, see the “Charities” section on the CAP website.
  4. Still unsure?  If you receive a solicitation that seems suspicious, but just aren’t sure, give the Consumer Assistance Program a call: (800) 649-2424. We’re happy to help.

Contributing Writer: Madison Braz
Content Editor: Crystal Baldwin

Resources: Federal Trade Commission

Health Care Scams Loom

Health is very important. To stay healthy, we may get the urge to try new health care products or medicine without knowing a lot about them. Unfortunately, health care scams loom. Below is what you should know about health and medical product scams.

Health and medical product scams try to convince the consumer that there is a “cure-all” medicine, treatment, or product at a very low cost. These scams may surface as an email, an advertisement on the internet, or as a phone call. The scammers may claim to be linked to doctors or hospitals. The offers may look real, but the products could be fake and endanger a person’s health.

Signs to spot a health or medical product scam:

Medicine bottles
  1. An unsolicited email/advertisement offering a popular medication at a very low price.
  2. The products are very cheap and offer “cure-all” characteristics.
  3. The seller claims a prescription is not necessary.
  4. You’ve never heard of the product.
  5. The mentioned doctor is not real.
  6. There is no scientific data on the product.

If you find a new health and medical product that you are unsure of, always ask a trusted and licensed healthcare professional about it. If you find a suspicious healthcare website, do not give any personal information or financial information. Always do research and get the facts to stay informed and stay safe.

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

Contributing writer: Courtney Thayer