We asked the people on the front lines of fighting fraud to tell us what the scammers are up to – and describe the latest efforts to stop them.
Q: You have been going after charity scammers for the FTC since 1994. What has changed in that time?
A: The phony sweepstakes that I investigated 20 years ago that were done by telemarketing might now be done online or via email. The investment scams from the ’80s were investing in precious metals or gems. These days they are investing in Bitcoin.
Stopping Fake Charities
Tracy S. Thorleifson, Attorney and charity-fraud expert, Federal Trade Commission
Q: What are the newest techniques that shady charities and fundraisers use to target older Americans?
A: Recently, we have seen a rise of telemarketing calls on behalf of political action committees that use soundboard technology [prerecorded messages played in a way that makes people believe that a real caller is on the other end of the telephone]. The calls sound just like the charitable-donation calls that you may have gotten before. They will make it sound like you are giving a donation to help support the police, firefighters, veterans — whoever — but it turns out the donation is going to a PAC.
Q: Is the FTC using any modern or high-tech methods to investigate fraud?
A: Yes. Tax-exempt organizations have to file 990s [IRS tax forms]. Charities are also required to register and file reports in about 40 states. Much of the information that states collect is available online. That has absolutely made our job easier. With a little bit of poking around, we can pull relevant information to help us assess what’s going on.
Q: What are the most recent schemes in health care fraud?
A: We all talk about health care fraud in dollars, but it has a personal effect, as well. For example, if a scammer were to use a beneficiary’s information to bill for an electric wheelchair today and if that beneficiary, God forbid, were to suffer a stroke next week and require the use of an electric wheelchair, Medicare wouldn’t pay because, according to its system, that patient already has that equipment.
Working Together to Fight Scams
Judith Kozlowski, Elder-justice expert working with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Elder Justice Initiative