Area Agency on Aging: New COVID and other scams continue to target elders

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    By Kay Kaylor
    PREVIEW Columnist

    I advocate for residents in skilled nursing and assisted living residences as the regional long-term care ombudsman. I also have been a Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP) and State Health Insurance Assistance Program counselor, all as an employee of San Juan Basin Area Agency on Aging (SJBAAA). The many aging and care concerns will be addressed here.

    Fraud involving COVID-19 and elders has increased so much that representatives of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the Office of Elder Justice joined in a live public webinar Feb. 23 to describe scams and resources. The recording can be watched at fcc.gov/news-events/events/archived.

    Several types of scams have been described here before, so the newest will be highlighted. The FCC presenter warned of phone texts from false charities and texts offering “access immediately” to a vaccine or free COVID home tests (some have been approved by the Federal Drug Administration, but they are not free). Beware of requests to pay to reserve a vaccine or to join a vaccine clinical trial and of promises from an online pharmacy. The best way to check if a text is real is to research online or call a legitimate charity or pharmacy, your insurance company or known local vaccine providers.

    One recent scam involves texts about package delivery and asking for personal information. Another involves smartphone “Peer-to-Peer Payment” apps, which allow you to send money to other people. Some accounts might be fake and the money intended for a stranger may go to a criminal instead. The payment cannot be reversed.

    On robocalls, the FCC speaker said, do not press a number button to request stopping the calls; this does not work to cancel them and may increase the calls. 

    The CFPB reminds people that a real COVID home-test company will not ask for your Social Security number, nor will a true contact tracer ask for personal information like your bank account number or credit card. Many people have heard of the unemployment fraud mailings, often sent with a prepaid card. The agency speaker also notes that you cannot pay to get an economic impact payment check sooner.

    Finally, beware of an “Errand Helper” you do not know; the person may use the opportunity to defraud you of funds or obtain your personal identity. 

    Medicare card scams

    A caller reviving an old scam attempted to entice me recently. He started with the question, “Have you received your new Medicare card?” I hung up immediately after quickly telling him to stop this scam. Medicare is not issuing new cards and would not call beneficiaries. The caller would have attempted to obtain my Medicare number and billed Medicare for false services. 

    According to SMP, similar scammers pretending to be from Medicare either describe the current card and ask to “update” information, or mention a new black-and-white card and claim the current card will be “deactivated.” The caller may reveal some private information to attempt to sound real. A criminal also may incorrectly claim Medicare is issuing a new plastic or metal card, or one with additional benefits. 

    Depending on the type of fraud, you can report it at various government websites and calling hotline phone numbers. All three agencies have COVID fraud websites with contact information. The Stop Fraud Colorado number is (800) 222-4444.

    SJBAAA offers resources for people age 60 and older or on Medicare; see sjbaaa.org. For further information, please call or text 403-2165 or send an email to kkaylor@sjbaaa.org.