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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Department of Education set up a “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.
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.
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.
Computer tech support scammers are imposters that immediately gain trust by using well-known company names like Norton, Microsoft, or Apple, or by expressing a desire to help fix a daunting problem. Ranking third among the scams with the highest dollar loss, $695,240, in Vermont in 2021, this scam is historically successful due to its ability to establish a sense of familiarity and legitimacy garnered by the scammer’s suggested affiliation with a company and their technical prowess.
In the computer tech support scam, you are contacted by phone, pop-up or email on your computer. The message spikes your anxiety and drives your response to be reactive. Tech scammers may claim, “There is a virus on your device,” “Your security subscription has been automatically renewed,” or “You have been charged for a year’s subscription of antivirus.” In the communication, a link or phone number is included, which you are urged to contact immediately to rectify the issue.
While in reaction mode, you call, hoping to resolve the issue. During the call, the scammer will try to persuade you to give remote access to your device to fix the problem, and sometimes will ask for immediate payment for their services. In scenarios where a refund is requested, they facilitate what appears to be a transfer of funds by walking you through steps to log into your own online bank account. Utilizing their program and ability to freely roam on your computer while they have remote access, they disguise the origin of the funds transfer, which is in actuality a transfer of funds between your own bank accounts.
Tech support scammers further escalate the call, using high tones of voice, demands of urgency, and call on your empathy to help solve a problem they created. The scammer’s tactics pull the recipient of the scam further into reaction mode. While in reaction mode, responses are based on impulse and with little additional collective data. Once a person has more information, through the process of asking questions and seeking out resources, the ability to think critically and problem-solve the issue comes back online.
For this scam and consumer transactions generally, you can apply the SLOW method to disrupt the unpredictable reaction response by substituting a planned response instead. At the onset of the first communication, start with SLOW as a strategy to help you take steps to verify.
S – Slow down – scammers pressure you to react urgently. Don’t! Instead, take a breath and find your calm by doing what is immediately natural to you.
L – Log the contact – write down the information of the email, or phone call. If they are on the phone, you can tell them you will call them back, even if you don’t intend to. Then, disengage.
O – One call – make one call to a primary contact, such as a friend or family member and discuss the incident. It works best if you have pre-established who this will be; someone you can trust no matter what. The contact is a sounding board, who will ask questions and help you get curious about the interaction. Some questions might include:
How do I know the contact is who they say they are? –What proof is there? Where can I verify their contact information that is not part of the communication I received? –Was my credit card charged? What other parties can I contact that might know more about this? How can I be sure this is not a scam?
W – Who cares? Contact another party or organization in your life who cares. The Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) can help you identify scams and report them: 1-800-649-2424 and ago.vermont.gov/cap
Know what to watch out for in computer tech scams, so you can avoid them:
Be wary of pop-ups and unexpected emails/phone calls.
Watch out for security warnings and account renewals.
Don’t trust contact information, like links, URLs and phone numbers provided in unexpected emails.
Never click on links or provide remote access to your computer from an unknown email or source.
If you received an email or pop-up message, you cannot click out of, don’t engage. Instead, shut down, restart, or unplug your device.
If you get a call from “tech support,” hang up.
Be careful when searching for tech support online. Some users have been scammed by calling illegitimate phone numbers listed on the internet.
In the age of the internet and free flowing technology scammers hope to capitalize at every turn. You can prevent scams by practicing SLOW in all your consumer transactions now—and commit to being a primary contact for others. Everyone can help stop scams by following a scam prevention plan and sharing scam knowledge with your community.
BURLINGTON – Attorney General T.J. Donovan is warning Vermonters about a new variation of the family emergency scam in which scammers are demanding that cash be handed over in person to a “courier.” By presenting a fake emergency in which their loved one needs help getting out of trouble, scammers pressure panicked family members, including grandparents, into acting before they can realize it’s a scam. Until recently, scammers took a hands-off approach in collecting money, demanding gift cards, wire transfers, or virtual payments. Now, the Attorney General’s Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) is receiving reports that scammers are enlisting “couriers” to collect cash directly from unsuspecting family members at their homes to resolve the fake emergency. Vermonters who receive these calls should resist the urge to act immediately and take steps to verify the caller’s identity.
While the family emergency scam has long plagued Vermonters, CAP is raising awareness about the spread of “couriers” coming to Vermonters’ homes to collect cash. In the last week, CAP has received 4 family emergency scam reports from Vermonters who were told that an individual or a “courier” would retrieve cash from them at their homes—3 of these scams resulted in monetary loss. Common elements of this scam include:
Claims of a “gag order” being in place which requires secrecy.
Cash is needed to pay for a “bond” or a “bail bond agent.”
A loved one was involved in a “car accident,” sometimes related to traveling for a COVID-19 test.
CAP has found that scammers are becoming more sophisticated in their contacts and appear to be using internet searches and public social media profiles to research the locations of family members. By searching telephone numbers and addresses on the internet and scanning popular social media sites, scammers can learn about familial relationships, ages, and geographic locations. Scammers then use this information to make the scam seem credible.
CAP advises Vermonters to slow down and follow a plan to not get scammed. Use the SLOW method in urgent situations:
S – SLOW DOWN. Scammers pressure you to act urgently. Take time to regain your calm.
L – LOG THE CONTACT. Write down the phone number of the contact and disengage.
O – ONE CALL. Make one call to a primary contact, such as a friend or family member, and discuss the incident.
W – WHO CARES? Call CAP to identify and report scams at 1-800-649-2424.