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

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.

When Computer Tech Support is a Scam 

By Crystal Baldwin

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. 

Scammers claim an account renewal payment has been processed or antivirus protection is needed. May claim to be Norton, Microsoft, or Apple. Contact CAP: 1-800-649-2424 ago.vermont.gov/cap
Computer Tech Support Scam Alert

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. 

Slow down! Log the Contact. Make One Call to a primary contact. Who cares? Reach out to CAP at 1-800-649-2424.
Stop scams with SLOW

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.  

SCAM ALERT: BEWARE OF “COURIERS” COLLECTING CASH IN FAMILY EMERGENCY SCAM

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.  

Scam Warning: In-person courier money retrieval scam. Slow down. Take steps to verify. Never give money to parties you cannot verify.

These scenarios are designed by scammers to be emotional and high pressure. If you are presented with this type of scenario—pause; hang up the phone; and call a friend or family member to verify. Do not give money to someone coming to your home. Instead, call local law enforcement and the Consumer Assistance Program to identify and report the scam.

Attorney General Donovan

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. CAP has received 216 reports of family emergency scams since the beginning of the year. 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.
Slow down and follow a plan to not get scammed.

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.

If you or someone you know has lost money to this scam, contact law enforcement and report the scam to CAP at 1-800-649-2424. Learn more about family emergency scams by watching CAP’s Avoiding the Family Emergency Scam video and reviewing steps to verify at https://ago.vermont.gov/cap/family-imposter/.

Reference: https://ago.vermont.gov/blog/2022/06/02/scam-alert-beware-of-couriers-collecting-cash-in-family-emergency-scam/