Excerpted from the 2013 AARP Almanac
The Sweepstakes Swindles
Sweepstakes and lottery scams are a 365-day concern for older Americans, who are specifically targeted — and most likely to fall victim. Here's how these scams work: You receive a series of letters and emails notifying you that you're a winner. The problem is, you're requested to pay processing fees or expenses to receive your jackpot and to "prove" your identity by providing personal information prized by identity thieves.
Here's what you should know:
• If you didn't enter, you didn't win. Period.
• You never have to pay anything upfront to redeem a legitimate prize.
• If you receive a partial-payment check for winning, it's a scam.
• Foreign lotteries are not open to U.S. residents.
• Never provide personal information such as a driver's license or passport number.
• It's a scam if the fine print lacks any of the following info: start and end dates; judging date; methods of entry, including judging criteria; type of proof of purchase required; description of prizes and approximate retail values; legal disclaimers; and sponsor's name and address.
The "Help Me, Grandma!" Scam
As spring break begins for many college students, con artists behind the notorious Grandparents Scam get to work. You may get a call that a beloved grandchild was arrested, hospitalized or has endured some other hardship that requires your money.
The usual request: Send a wire transfer (for bail, hospital bills, meal or travel expenses) to somewhere in the United States or abroad. Don't take the bait. Thousands of other loving grandparents have — and in the process lost millions of dollars with their good intentions. Authenticate any claims of a grandchild's alleged trouble by calling the home or cellphone number to ensure all is fine. If the caller alleges to be a lawyer, police officer or doctor "helping" a grandchild in need, a five-minute online search can verify the reported law firm, police station or hospital for a callback on your part.
The "Dialing for Diabetics" Diversion
Have you received a phone call telling you that you qualify for free or discounted medical supplies for diabetes, heart disease or other conditions? Pay attention to that caller's next line: "Before the supplies can arrive, I need to confirm your condition with your age, Social Security number and the name and phone number of your doctor." It's another scammer out to steal your identity.
Don't be fooled, no matter what caller ID says. These offers — usually by unsolicited phone call but sometimes via email or letter — are attempts to extract personal information from Medicare-age folks, whose names and numbers are gleaned from purchased lists.
It's illegal for a medical supplier to make unsolicited telephone calls to people who use Medicare unless you have given written consent to have that supplier call you, the call is about an item the supplier already provided to you, or you received delivered equipment in the previous 15 months. The same applies to telemarketers calling on behalf of suppliers.
To be sure, legitimate businesses such as pharmacies or booths operated by a charity, health agency or association offer flu shots and other free services. But they will not ask you for revealing personal information.
Medicare Open Enrollment Cons
Medicare scams occur year round, but they dramatically spike starting in mid-October, when open enrollment begins. During this period, identity thieves ramp up various ruses to get you to reveal your Medicare number — which is your Social Security number.
The most common ploys: cold-calling those who are retirement age. Scammers collect their names, ages and phone numbers from public telephone directories or purchased lists. The fraudsters then claim that Medicare is issuing new cards, entitlements or refunds that can be redeemed only if you provide or "verify" your Medicare eligibility. Some crooks also ask for credit card or bank account numbers.
Don't believe it. Medicare will never phone or email you to ask for such information. The only time Medicare will request verification is if you initiate contact. Don't trust caller ID, which can be manipulated with "spoofing" products or Internet-based phone lines to display whatever phone number or organization they choose. And if you're wondering about 2013 changes in Medicare, learn about them at medicare.gov.