By Annette Morrison, M.S., CRS-A/D; CCSI Case Coordination, LLC
Jose’ was terrified. He has received a call from Social Security that his documentation was compromised and he was in danger of being deported. The representative from Social Security verified his information over the phone and asked for a few more personal details, which he gladly provided in fear of the consequences to him and his family if he did not. They assured him that he would be fine as long as he cooperated with their requests. Two days later, he received another call from them. This time they said that his information checked out but they discovered he had a cousin who was in the country illegally and in order to rectify the situation, they would need him to pay—wiring money to a location in Washington D.C. and even purchasing store gift cards and then giving them the codes from the back. They emailed him documents with his cousin’s info and it looked official, so again, he did not question it out of fear of doing something wrong and jeopardizing his loved ones. For six weeks, he received repeated phone calls from the same Social Security Representative with the names of multiple relatives whom had “questionable credentials.” He emptied his savings account trying to comply with the requests for payment and security until he read an article in the newspaper about Social Security Scams. Suddenly he felt sick to his stomach. Could it all have been fake? Luckily, he had worked with a Senior Information Services Specialist at CCSI Case Coordination last fall when he and his wife needed to sign up for Medicare—he thought it might be time to talk to her to see if any of this was legitimate. He gathered his documents and called her to make an appointment.
Jose’ was the victim of an insidious scam designed to prey on the fear of immigrants to the United States. In 2019, more than 1.9 billion dollars were lost to phone scams in the United States alone. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a federal agency, 3.2 million Americans fell victim to scams in the United States in 2019; in the 70–79 year age group 13 percent were scammed—that’s 416,000 seniors. Since then scams have become more diverse and are on the rise. Scammers prey on our fears, desires, and insecurities; ranging from Social Security to Medicare to Medicaid to romance to relatives in need, to sweepstakes. Even COVID-19 spurred a range of scams to take advantage of people who were desperate for help but didn’t know the warning signs of what is legitimate or not. Almost every government agency now has scam awareness campaigns to address how to recognize legitimate contact versus someone trying to take advantage of you. Here’s a few of the most helpful resources and tips.
Senior Medicare Patrol—Medicare rarely calls beneficiaries. They do the majority of their business through mailed notices. They may mail you a notice telling you a representative will be calling you, but will not do this in an email unless you have signed up for a Medicare.gov account and opted out of paper notices. In McLean County, the East Central Area Agency on Aging can help you investigate if a questionable Medicare billing or situation is legitimate. They are tasked with educating beneficiaries to their rights and when to escalate if something doesn’t quite make sense in their medical care billing process. Call 1-309-829-2065 and ask for Lauren Laine or visit ECIAAA’s website at https://eciaaa.org/smp. Additional Medicare resources are available on the federally funded official SMP website at www.smpresource.org.
Social Security Administration—The Social Security Administration reports that they rarely will actually call a beneficiary, and then only after a written notice has been mailed out to the person to let them know they are trying to make contact. The same is true of the Internal Revenue Service. All government agencies recommend to NEVER give out your social security number, Medicare Beneficiary Number, or bank account information over the phone unless YOU have initiated the contact with a legitimate agency representative. If you get an email or text requesting a call, do not call the number on the email or text. Look up the agency on google, go to their website, and use the official phone number listed there. Or call 211 to ask for the official phone number. Many scammers are very good about making emails look official but direct you to an unofficial phone number in an attempt to “phish” information out of you to take advantage.
ADVOCATE FOR YOURSELF—What to do if you are a VICTIM: What was mostly hurt by falling victim to this scam, Jose’ reported, was his pride. Sure, he lost money—but also had lost confidence in his ability to discern a legitimate business from a fake one. The CCSI SIS Specialist explained that scammers are good at what they do—they know how to work the system, find our vulnerabilities, and prey on them. Being educated about what to watch out for is our best defense. Also admitting that you have been a victim is the first step to possibly getting your money/security back and catching the criminals of fraud/theft.
IL Office of the Attorney General (I.O.A.G.)—The Attorney General Office of Illinois has an Identity Theft Hotline you may call at 1-866-999-5630. They will take your report and give you other resources to help you limit any damage that may be done. You may also visit their website at illinoisattorneygeneral.gov for multiple useful reporting tools, consumer protection brochures, and guidance.
If you have given out your Social Security Number or other personal information in some way that may be compromising, visit identitytheft.gov right away and fill out a report or have a family member do this for you, as you may end up being a victim of identity theft.
Report your fraud incidents on the Federal Trade Commission’s website at reportfraud.ftc.gov. They will guide you through additional steps to take to ensure your financial protection and help limit damage to your status.
Jose’ lost money and with the help of a CCSI Senior Information Services Specialist, was able to place reports about his scam and limit the amount of damage. He called his relatives to warn them not to speak with “representatives” over the phone and explained what he had gone through. He had little hope of getting his money back but he felt much better about his family’s security after taking these steps.
To make your appointment with a Senior Information Services Specialist, contact CCSI Case Coordination LLC at 309-661-6400. We are located at 3601 G.E. Road, Suite 2, Bloomington, IL 61704. Services have no cost, but donations are always graciously accepted. No one is ever denied assistance based on the inability to pay. Funding is provided through ECIAAA and IDOA.
For additional informative and inspirational articles visit 50 Plus News and Views Bloomington Normal online edition today.