AARP Fights Consumer Fraud – by Herb Weiss

Published in Pawtucket Times on November 30, 2020

Every year, fraudsters continue to operate government imposter scams falsely claim to be from federal agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service, Social Security Administration, to get people to turn over money or personal information. Every year, hundreds of thousands of Americans continue to fall victim to these scams.

FTC Compiles Fraud Complaints

Last January, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released its annual report detailing data from the Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book 2019, continuing to put a spotlight on the impact of imposter scams and identify fraud on consumers across the nation. Expect the FTC to release its 2020 data book early next year.

The data book, initially released in 2008, includes national statistics, as well as a state-by-state listing of top report categories in each states, and a listing of metropolitan areas that generated the most complaints per 100,000 population.

According to the FTC, its 2019 database network receives reports directly from consumers, as well as from federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies and a number of private partners. Last year, the network received 3.2 million reports, including nearly 1.7 million fraud reports as well as identity theft and other reports.

The researchers found that younger people reported losing money to fraud more often than older people. But, when people age 70 and over had losses, the median loss was much higher, they say.  

Imposter scams, a subset of Fraud reports, followed closely behind with 657,472 reports from consumers of 2019. The most common type of fraud reported to the FTC last year was identified theft scams, with imposter scams following closely behind.    

Specifically, last year there were over 647,000 imposter scams reported to FTC’s database. Thirteen percent of those calling reported a dollar loss, totaling nearly $667 million lost to imposter scammers. These scams include, for example, romance scams, people falsely claiming to be the government, a relative in distress, a well-known business, or a technical support expert, to get a consumer’s money.

Of the 1.7 million fraud reports, 23 percent indicated money was lost. In 2019, people reported losing more than $1.9 billion to fraud – an increase of $293 million over what was reported in 2018.

Protecting Yourself Against Scammers

With the release of a new report, AARP continues its efforts to combat identify theft and imposter scams. The Washington, DC-based nonprofits continues to report on the latest scams, exploring its impact on U.S. adults age 55 and over and how technology may play a role in their ability to protect themselves from financial harm. The 16-page report, “Identity Fraud in Three Acts,” developed by Javelin Strategy & Research and sponsored by AARP, reveals that 26 percent of seniors have been victims of identity fraud. But researchers say that more are taking additional safeguards to prevent losses of personal information. Following an identity theft incident, 29 percent have placed credit freezes on their credit bureau information, and more than half have enrolled in identity protection or credit monitoring services.

“Older Americans are leading more digitally infused lives, with two-thirds using online banking weekly, so it’s encouraging to see that many are taking proactive steps to protect their identity following a data breach,” said Kathy Stokes, Director of AARP Fraud Prevention Programs in a statement announcing the release of the report. “Passwords still represent a security threat, however; using repeated passwords across multiple online accounts makes it easy for criminals to crack one of them so that all of your accounts – including financial accounts – become accessible,” says Stokes.

According to the AARP report, age 55 and over consumers call for banks to use stronger security authentication. About 90 percent support the use of more fingerprint scanning, and 80 percent view facial recognition capabilities as a reliable form of technology for financial transactions and private business matters. The report’s findings indicate that identity fraud victims age 65 and over do not necessarily change how they shop, bank or pay following a fraudulent event, with 70 percent exhibiting reluctance to change familiar habits.

“Criminals are regularly targeting age 55 and over Americans through a combination of sophisticated scams via computer malware and also through more traditional low-tech channels via telephone and U.S. mail,” says the AARP report’s author, John Buzzard, Lead Analyst, Fraud and Security at Javelin. “The combination of high-tech and low-tech strategies unfortunately gives the upper hand to the criminal — not the consumer,” he adds.

The AARP report provides these tips to older consumers to protect their pocketbooks. Just hang up on strangers. Independently verify everything.  Always adopt security practices that go beyond a single password.  Consider using a password manager tool or app to create and safely store complex passwords.  Always write down important numbers of companies you do business with rather than rely on a web search for a customer service number, as criminals post fake numbers online.  

The report also recommends securing your devices – mobile phones, laptops and tablets- with a complex password, preferably with screen locks that use a fingerprint or facial recognition and secure personal payments with digital wallets.

Be vigilant.  Don’t become a sucker for scams.  

To report a compliant, call the Consumer Sentinel HelpLine at 1.877.701.9595.

For a copy of Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book 2019, go to:  https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/reports/consumer-sentinel-network-data-book-2019/consumer_sentinel_network_data_book_2019.pdf

For a copy of “Identity Fraud in Three Acts,” go to:  https://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/home-and-family/family-and-friends/2020/10/aarp-Identity-fraud-report.pdf.

To learn more about AARP’s fraud prevention programs, visit aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork.  

AARP Town Hall Gives Its Best to Educate Seniors on COVID-19

Published in the Woonsocket Call on April 5, 2020

With more than 278 Americans now infected with the Coronavirus virus (COVID-19) and at least 7,159 people dying from the deadly virus, according to an April 3 blog article the New York Times, “about 311 million people in at least 41 states, three counties, eight cities, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico are being urged to stay home.” The Washington, DC-based AARP continues to intensify its efforts to educate seniors about COVID-19 by hosting weekly Coronavirus Information Tele-Town Hall events.

At AARP’s second Coronavirus Information Tele-Town Hall event, held Thursday, March 19, during the 90 minute live event, federal health experts gathered to answer questions about the latest changes to address the health impacts of COVID-19, family caregiving needs, and to give tips on how seniors can stay safe from scams and frauds. AARP’s Vice President Bill Walsh served a host and the panel of experts featured Dr. Jay Butler, M.D., the deputy director for infectious diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC), Lance Robertson, the assistant secretary for aging and administrator of the Administration for Community Living (ACL) and Daniel Kaufman, the deputy director for the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. AARP’s Jean Setzfand. AARP’s senior vice president served as moderator.

CDC’s Butler called for the public to stay informed and take the coronavirus virus seriously. “As we’ve learned more about COVID-19, it’s very clear that most people who become infected do recover and do very well. But unfortunately, some get very sick. And some even die. And the risk of more severe illness is greatest for those who are older and for persons with underlying health conditions, especially chronic heart, lung or kidney disease, and those with diabetes,” he says.

Juggling Costs and Benefits While Promoting Social Distancing

According to Butler, grocery stores are juggling costs and benefits with promoting social distancing by designating special hours for seniors to shop if they don’t have someone who can make “that run to the grocery store or have delivery services available.”

“We’re at the end of flu season so if you develop symptoms (cough, muscle aches, headache, and temperature) it doesn’t mean that you have COVID-19, says Butler. For those concern, it is important to talk with your health care provider who will determine whether or not you should be evaluated and whether or not a test may be necessary, he adds, noting that COVID-19 testing is now covered by Medicare Part B when it’s ordered by a health care provider.

“Of course, if you suddenly become very ill—and that would be things like shortness of breath, chest pain, difficulty in getting your breath at all or noticing that your face or your lips are turning blue—that’s when you call 911, and get in as quickly as possible,” says Butler.

Butler notes that the primary transmission of the COVID-19 virus (as well as the six other coronaviruses that were previously known to cause disease in humans), is respiratory droplets.

By coughing or sneezing you produce droplets that contain the virus that can spread as far as five or six feet away from you, he says stressing that this is why social-distancing can protect you from catching the virus.

Many express concerns that COVID-19 can be picked up by handling letters and packages. But, says that the likelihood of transmission of is extremely low. So, consider sending a package a loved one in an assisted living facility or nursing home because it can be meaningful, says Butler.

For those over age 75 to age 80, Butler recommends that these individuals practice social distancing by connecting with their children or grandchildren by phone video chat to being exposed to COVID-19.

Butler gave simple tips for residents of senior living complexes to protect themselves from COVID-19. When you come back into your apartment after taking out trash to the chute or dumpster, “wash your hands,” he says. “And that means about 20 seconds with soap and water.

It seems like a long time but it’s the same amount of time it usually takes getting through the alphabet or to sing Happy Birthday twice,” adds Butler. Or just use a hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol as an alternative to hand washing.

ACL Administrator Robertson provided tips to unpaid caregivers who cannot visit their loved ones in nursing homes due to the necessary visiting restrictions. He says, get the facility’s up-to-date contact information along with details as to ways as how to make virtual visits, video chats and regular phone calls. He says, don’t forget to send cards and notes, not only to your loved one, but to other residents even to staff to say thank you.

Communicating with Your Loved Ones

Enhance your verbal communication by asking the facility staff to schedule the time for your call. “If your mom is most alert in the morning, pick a morning time, think about what music they might like and play that in the background or sing along or sing directly to your loved one,” recommends Robertson.

Robertson notes, “If you find the conversation struggling a bit, maybe play a game of trivia, reminisce, work on a crossword puzzle together, sing songs, read poetry or other materials.

Watch a TV show at the same time and just discuss. Again, throw in some creativity and you can help prevent both boredom and isolation.”

For those more technically savvy, face-to-face interaction through FaceTime, Messenger, Facebook, Zoom, can enhance your contact, says, Robertson.

Adds Robertson, make sure you ask the facility staff to keep the scheduled time of the care conference, holding it over the phone. “We know they’re busy, but it’s imperative that you remain linked as a caregiver,” he says.

For those caregivers seeking resources to take care of their loved one at home, call ACL’s Eldercare Locator, recommends Robertson. It’s toll-free 1-800-677-1116.

During this COVID-19 emergency FTC’s Daniel Kaufman warned that you will see “unscrupulous marketers” trying to take advantage of senior’s fears by selling them bogus treatments. In early March, he told the listeners that the FTC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent out warning letters to seven companies that were claiming products (such as cheese, essential oils and colloidal silver) could treat or prevent the coronavirus. He quipped, these companies are not making these claims anymore and urged seniors to report any scams they come across by going to ftc.gov/complaint.

Kaufman says that seniors can also go to ftc.gov/coronavirus or just go to ftc.gov to see a very prominent link for coronavirus scams. If you want to receive consumer alerts directly from the FTC, you can go to ftc.gov/subscribe.

Skyrocketing of COVID-19 Related Scams

According to Kaufman, FTC is seeing an increase in scams, from phishing emails, charity and stock scams, to robocalls selling cleaning supplies and masks.

“We are seeing a lot of bogus emails that are going out to consumers, that use headers about coronavirus to get people to open them. You know, these are fake emails that are purporting to come from legitimate and important organizations like the World Health Organization or the CDC,” says Kaufman. “Don’t click on links when you get those emails. Don’t open those emails. They will download viruses or be harmful to software onto your computer, or they will try to get your private information or credit card information,” he adds.

Watch out for charity scams, too, warns Kaufman. “You know, this is a difficult time and we all want to help. But we want to make sure we’re helping charities and not scammers who are pretending to be charities, he says, suggesting that you do your homework to protect your pocketbooks.

With COVID-19 spreading across the nation you are now seeing more robocalls touting products and services to protect you from being exposed to virus. “Just hang up. Keep in mind that anyone who’s robocalling you, if they’re trying to sell you a product, they’re already doing something that’s unlawful,” he says.

Kaufman also recommends that seniors use a credit card when purchasing products, whether it’s cleaning supplies or masks, on websites. “It’s pretty easy to set up a website that’s purporting to provide, to sell these kinds of products. And they’re taking consumers’ payment information but not delivering, he notes.

Finally, Kaufman urges seniors to watch out for watch out for fraudsters who are touting that a certain company’s stock that is certainly going to explode because they have products that can treat coronavirus. Don’t fall for this stock scam and buy this stock.

For the latest coronavirus news and advice, go to http://www.AARP.org/coronavirus.

To see transcript, go to http://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-2020/tele-town-hall-coronavirus-03-19.html.