It isn’t news to any of us that we are living in turbulent times, nor that there are people out there looking to capitalize on it. Scams, frauds and schemes aren’t new, but they are becoming increasingly common. According to the Federal Trade Commission, 1 in 10 adults are victims of a scam or fraud each year. It is projected in the U.S. that $40 billion is lost annually to investment fraud, while $35 billion is lost due to financial exploitation and $50 billion in Medicare fraud. It’s a big business indeed and it costs us all.
Living in a small, safe community such as Sioux Center can foster a false sense of security. Because everyone seems to know everyone else can leave us with our guard down. This, along with the reputation of Iowans to be trusting, polite individuals, can make us as easy marks for those looking to scam others out of their assets. Seniors are viewed as particularly vulnerable to these scammers who can live anywhere in the world and be just a phone call or e-mail away.
Ponzi schemes in which quick returns to the first investors come from money invested by later investors are at a 10-year high, according to a recent Iowa Fraud Fighter’s blog. These are only one of a variety of investment scams targeting Iowans; private placement offers, promissory notes, oil and gas, gold and precious metals, as well as insurance (including Medicare) scams are some of the financial exploitation means being used, according to the Iowa Insurance Commissioner. Iowa’s Senior Health Insurance Information Program and Iowa’s Senior Medicare Patrol are warning people to be particularly careful during this the open enrollment period for Medicare, calls have been received from scammers offering new, cheaper plans that do not exist. Also, complaints have been made concerning fake offers for free COVID-19 testing, testing kits and face masks and contact tracing in an attempt to get Social Security and Medicare numbers.
Identity theft is another common scam in which the scammer uses various methods of obtaining personal information that can be used to gain access to financial assets. Some current scams involve a caller claiming to represent the Social Security Administration warning of an issue with the IRS, which can all be cleared up if you provide your Social Security number. The state of Iowa is also warning of calls being placed claiming that your Medicare card is expired and can no longer be used, resulting in a need for you to provide information necessary to generate a new card. It is important to remember that no government agency will call you requesting personal information, they use the U.S. Postal system exclusively, requesting you call them. There are other ways scammers can get your personal information including e-mail hacking, medical records, garbage/landfill, credit or debit card skimming and data breaches. We all need to guard our personal information closely (DOB, SS numbers, bank/financial account numbers, etc).
Prize winning scams are common with a scammer calling to inform you that you are the winner of a large sum of money or an incredible prize for which you only have to pay the tax or a fee to collect (e.g. Publisher’s Clearinghouse or the lottery). Scammers have also been known to call or e-mail pretending to be a relative or close friend who is traveling and lost all their cash, ID, etc. or injured and need money fast.
While not scams, serious financial consequences can result when you agree to changes in your insurance coverage, financial vehicles, etc. over the phone. Policies you hold can be revised with your permission, which could result in diminished coverage, payouts, etc. It is recommended that you agree to no such changes over the phone but request that a written explanation of the suggested policy changes be mailed to you. In an effort to save themselves possible payouts, insurance companies can and do call, write or e-mail existing policyholders to suggest policies with lower premiums which result in lower coverage or payouts. When you receive any such letters you need to review it with a family member or trusted adviser before signing.
It is sad to think there are people in the world who can have such little regard for others that they set about to rob people out of their retirement savings, property, etc. And worse yet to know that they prey on those who are most vulnerable; those who are widowed, living alone and who have been defrauded before (yes, they are particularly targeted).
To report possible scams, get tips on how to avoid scams or just ask questions, contact Iowa Fraud Fighters by calling 1-877-955-1212 or at iowafraudfighters.gov. Also, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau offers useful fraud prevention information and resources for educators or personal use at consumerfinance.gov.
Kelli Jelsma of Sioux Center has a master’s in human services management with geriatrics being her specialty. She’s also a certified voluntary LTC Ombudsman for the state of Iowa in Sioux County.