Medicare Open Enrollment Scammer, or the Real Deal?

By Crystal Baldwin

It happened last year, and again this year. During Medicare Open Enrollment season, a concerned elder in my life called to ask if the person soliciting them was a scammer or an actual enrollment representative. The truth is, aside from highlighting some key identifiers of scams, it can be hard to tell. The scammers are so good at acting as if they are Medicare enrollment professionals, that it is enormously difficult to differentiate them from the real deal. The scams even spoof Medicare’s phone number, making the caller ID appear to be Medicare when it is not.

Medicare Open Enrollment Scam Alert

The primary difference between a telemarketer and a scammer is whether the caller is honoring the Federal Do Not Call Registry (DNC). If you ever put you number on the DNC by calling 1-888-382-1222 or by going online at donotcall.gov, you should not be receiving calls from solicitors—Even during Medicare open enrollment. You likely should not be receiving robocalls of this nature either.

What provider can call you when you are on the DNC?

Businesses with whom you have a customer relationship within the past six months, such as your Medicare provider, and other you have requested to call you. Yes, that’s it. No other unrequested calls are allowed.

More on Robocalls:

The same goes for those annoying automated/computer/robot calls. Except with these, unless you expressly opted into receiving robocalls in writing, you should not be receiving these calls either.

What if the call IS my Medicare provider, or I am interested in changing plans during open enrollment?

This is where it gets tricky. It is difficult to know whether your provider is calling instead of a scammer, especially because scammers copycat caller ID numbers. The only way to be sure is to take steps to verify by hanging up on the caller and calling back a number you know to be valid.

If you are looking to change enrollment during the Medicare open enrollment period, do so on your terms.

If you are concerned about your Medicare plan or need to report known Medicare provider fraud/abuse, contact Medicare directly at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).

Please help the Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) stop Medicare scams by sharing this information with someone you know. If you have questions about this scam, or have provided personal information to the scammers, please contact CAP at 1-800-649-2424 or go online to ago.vermont.gov/cap.


Resources:

Federal Trade Commission Do Not Call Registry
Medicare

Student Debt Relief, or a Scam?

By Crystal Baldwin

It is not every day that government relief is offered for paying off student loans. In the past, to help warn about scams, I can recall specifically saying something to the effect of, “The government doesn’t give you money to pay for your student loans.” Now that the government is, in fact, giving certain qualified borrowers some student loan debt relief (studentaid.gov), my blanket statement no longer applies. Criminal fraudsters may take advantage of this rare opportunity by representing themselves as providing this student loan debt relief.

Student loan debt relief scams - CAP: 1-800-649-2424 | blog.uvm.edu/cap

To make sure you are connected to the most accurate information when claiming your portion of the student loan forgiveness, connect with known legitimate sources.

  • The Federal Student Loan Debt Relief application is located on the Federal Student Aid website: https://studentaid.gov/debt-relief/application
  • The Federal Department of Education set up a “NEW! Federal Student Loan Borrower Updates” subscription so that you can receive notifications: https://www.ed.gov/subscriptions
  • Want to connect with someone locally? Vermont’s own VSAC has a wealth of information about student aid and stays in the know about available government programs.
  • Reach out to your loan servicer and update your contact information. Get your loan servicer information from your StudentAid.gov account.

Keys to detecting a student loan relief scam:

  • You never need to pay to claim your federal loan forgiveness. Hang up on calls asking you to pay!
  • The government does not solicit your participation in student loan relief programs, so you should not receive calls about it or click on ads offering student debt relief.
  • Hang up on callers asking for your Federal Student Aid/FSA ID. The Department of Education and your federal student loan servicer will not contact you to ask for this information. Keep your information safe from identity thieves, who may try to claim your student loan relief for themselves!
  • Companies offering debt relief in Vermont are required to be a licensed debt adjuster with the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation (DFR) Division of Banking. If you are interested in consolidating student loans, make sure the business meets the licensing requirements of our state and verify this with DFR.

Have you been contacted by student loan debt relief scam? Help others by reporting it!

Our nation’s consumer protection agencies, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) are working together to hold scammers accountable. “Over the course of the last 18 months, the FTC has reached nearly $30 million in settlements that included refunds for tens of thousands of student borrowers who were illegally charged up front fees and falsely promised reduced or eliminated student loan payments” (whitehouse.gov). Since 2011, the CFPB has required “refunds of nearly $8.7 million to consumers and banning several individuals from the debt-relief payment processing industry…” (whitehouse.gov)

  • Report scams directly to the Federal Trade Commission: reportfraud.ftc.gov
  • Report scam calls to help the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) identify scam callers. Send your Student Loan Scam report to StudentLoanScams@fcc.gov and include the date of the call, time of the call, the recipient’s phone number, the number on the caller ID.
  • The Consumer Assistance Program is your state resource to help identify and report scams. File with CAP through our online scam form or call us at 1-800-649-2424.

Have a different student loan concern?

Find help and resources from the US Department of Education Office of the Inspector General.

Resources:

Federal Student Aid
The White House
US Department of Education
US Department of Education Office of the Inspector General

Shred events help to prevent identity theft

By Crystal Baldwin

This weekend, I am going to a Shred Event hosted by a local bank. My several boxes of shred-necessary paperwork–you know the documents riddled with personal identifying numbers–already seem lighter.

Banks periodically host events where they gather one or more mobile shred trucks, equipped with an industrial shredder and invite the public to offload their shredding. Different from an at-home shredder, which slowly snips small amounts of paper at once with varying outputs, cutting long strips or crosswise. The shredder on a mobile shred truck can handle large quantities of paper. An entire box, for example, can be dumped into the receptacle at once, returning small bits of paper. In the world of paper shredding, industrial shredders are considered quick and supreme. The result of compounding shredders with the anonymity of event participants is a massive indiscernible pile of recyclable paper. 

Shred Events: Protect Your Identity
Shred Events: Protect Your Identity

Why shred events?

Shred events help prevent fraud and financial identity theft by giving people an easy way to dispose of confidential paperwork. We all have it, and we need a safe and secure way to dispose of it. All an identity thief needs to wreak havoc on our financial future is our Social Security number, date of birth, address, and name. Shred events benefit you by helping you protect your personal information. They help banks by way of protecting the information of their clientele and eliminating potential bank fraud and related recovery costs.

Identity thieves are online, so why do we need to shred paper?

News of data breaches and the message to stay safe online and protect your electronic information remains true and important. And still, some of the more involved and impactful crimes of identity theft, such as the creation of new accounts and huge losses, are often committed by people close to us: a relative, supposed friend, or neighbor. Some of these folks may know exactly where you keep your boxes of personal files.

Still others may forage trash the eve of trash pickup. If you carelessly discard confidential documentation, you could be directly supplying a thief with your information.

Destroying documents that you no longer need is the best method to prevent potential theft and misuse of that document. Keeping such documents around your home, or neglectfully discarding them in original form makes you more susceptible to identity theft.

Can shred events destroy my devices that contain my personal information?

No. Shred events are all about shredding paper. Personal devices cannot be discarded or wiped clean of personal data there. Prior to discarding or recycling electronic devices, consumers must take crucial steps to clear personal data off a device through a factory reset or destroy the dive/circuit board altogether.

How can I find a shred event near me?

Banks as well as community organizations host shred events. When you find an event, such as through an online event listing on a third-party site, like Facebook, take steps to verify directly with the hosting entity.

To learn more about identity theft and protection steps, please review the Consumer Assistance Program’s website and blog.

Free Cybersecurity Training for VT Small Businesses

The Consumer Assistance Program of the Vermont Attorney General’s Office is hosting the Cybersecurity for Small Businesses Training, a free webinar about protecting your small business from data breaches, scams, and cyber-attacks. Representatives from the Vermont Attorney General’s Office will be joined by Microsoft on September 29th from 9:30-10:30 for a free virtual presentation on cybersecurity for small businesses.

This presentation will feature Vermont Assistant Attorney General Sarah L. J. Aceves from the Consumer Protection Division and will discuss the ways in which businesses can protect themselves from scams and respond to a data breach. Microsoft Suite users can stay on for an additional presentation by a Microsoft training expert, who will discuss the application of cybersecurity features within the platform. Vermont small businesses are invited to join us for this informative and interactive presentation.

Event: Cybersecurity for Small Businesses Training

Hosted by: Emily McDonnell, Small Business Advocate of the Vermont Consumer Assistance Program of the Vermont Attorney General’s Office

Presenters: Sarah L.J. Aceves, Vermont Assistant Attorney General
Jessica Harrison, Microsoft Training Manager

Date: Thursday, September 29, 2022

Time: 9:30 AM – 10:30 AM (Eastern Time)

Location: Online webinar

Cost: Free

Register: Click here for the webinar registration

Businesses can preview guidance as to what to do in the event of a security breach on the Vermont Attorney General’s website: VT Security Breach Notice Act Guidance. For more information on this webinar or resources for small businesses, contact Emily McDonnell, Small Business Advocate at AGO.SmallBusiness@vermont.gov.

Our office works to promote a private-public partnership to inform Vermont small businesses. Our goal is to give businesses the resources they need to comply with the expectations of commerce. Please understand our office is unable to provide legal advice and we do not endorse any specific business.

Vermont Business Imposter Email Scams Are on the Rise

BURLINGTON – The Attorney General’s Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) is warning Vermont business owners, non-profits, and employees about an uptick in business imposter email scams. In the last two months, CAP has received five reports of business imposter email scams resulting in a total loss of $210,799. Scammers are impersonating employees or familiar business representatives’ emails and contacting company bookkeepers and office administrators asking them to change bank account information, direct deposit information, or asking them to write checks. By impersonating an employee’s email address or creating a fake personal email for the employee, scammers can steal money from businesses and steal paychecks from employees.

$210,799 Business Imposter Loss in Vermont in July and August 2022
Business Imposter Loss – Vermont – July and August 2022

            Vermont businesses and non-profits should always verify email addresses and speak directly with an employee or business representative in person or via phone when sending money or changing payment information. Oftentimes, scammers will use an email address that only slightly varies from an employee’s true email. Be wary of any email coming from outside your company’s domain. CAP urges business owners to educate their entire company on scams that target businesses.

              Here are ways in which businesses and non-profits can better protect themselves and their employees from scams:

  1. Cybersecurity assessment: check internal controls and resolve vulnerabilities.
  2. Train staff regularly in cybersecurity and funds management protocols.
  3. Enlist internal protocols to verify the transfer of funds by engaging multiple staff members and voice verification, using trusted contact information.
  4. Help clientele identify common scams within the industry.
  5. The SLOW method can serve as a helpful starting point, encouraging parties to take their time during urgent transactions and connect with a trusted party like CAP.
  6. Never send money to parties you cannot verify.

            To learn more about how to protect your business from these scams, watch CAP’s Avoiding the Business Imposter Email Scam Video and review the steps to verify at https://ago.vermont.gov/cap/business-imposter/.

Avoiding the Business Imposter Email Scam

            If you or someone you know has lost money to this scam, contact law enforcement and report the scam to CAP online or call 1-800-649-2424 and speak to our Small Business Advocate.