Every year, millions of people in the United States fall victim to frauds or scams, and a seminar Friday afternoon at Northbrook Baptist Church helped educate local residents about how to spot and avoid them.
The seminar featured a panel of speakers who deal with frauds or scams in their day-to-day jobs, and included Alabama Securities Commission Marketing Specialist Nick Vonderau, North Alabama Better Business Bureau CEO Elizabeth Garcia, Cullman County Sheriff Matt Gentry and Senior Medicare Patrol State Director Lani Richardson.
Vonderau spoke about some of the ways to spot potential scams that come from people offering investment opportunities, including being wary of deals that seem too good to be true or promise a specific amount of money as a return.
Investment scams can include ponzi schemes, promissory notes or cryptocurrencies, but there are also people who will use events like the coronavirus outbreak to promise a miracle cure after receiving an immediate investment.
“If somebody puts high pressure on you to act now, that is a red flag,” he said. “If it sounds too good to be true, that’s going to be a red flag.”
Vonderau said anyone who wants to check on an investment opportunity can call the Alabama Securities Commission hotline at 1-800-222-1253 or visit asc.alabama.gov
Garcia’s presentation focused on identity theft, and how people can avoid falling victim to thieves who want to steal their personal information.
She said there were 3.2 million cases of identity theft reported to the Federal Trade Commission last year, with total losses exceeding $1.9 billion.
“That is huge,” she said. “It is a systemic problem now.”
To make sure their identities have not been stolen, Garcia recommended that people check their credit reports at least once per year and ideally four times per year to make sure there are no fraudulent accounts that have been opened in their name.
She said a person using online banking can also set up transaction alerts that are sent by email or in a text message, which can allow them to take action right away if they spot suspicious activity.
Gentry said he and the deputies of the sheriff’s office see a lot of scams in Cullman County, including ones that are initiated through the phone, on social media scams or door-to-door.
Many of those scams will play on a person’s emotions, such as taking advantage of a lost loved one to solicit money, or using fear, such as threatening arrest unless money is sent.
Other scammers will come to a person’s door with a sad story to try to get inside their homes to steal any wallets, checks or any other items that they can find, Gentry said.
“Don’t let them play on your emotions,” he said.
Richardson’s agency focuses on Medicare scams, and she shared a few tips with Medicare recipients to protect their information and Medicare funding.
She said there are three steps to follow when it comes to protecting Medicare information: protect, detect and report.
People should protect the Medicare number and social security numbers just like they are credit or debit card numbers, and should never give those numbers to someone who is offering a free service or medication, Richardson said.
To detect potential fraud, she recommended people keep a medical journal or calendar to keep track of visits to their doctors and what services they received and then check that information against the Medicare Summary Notices that they received.
If a person’s Medicare Summary Notice includes additional doctor’s visits or different services than they actually received, they should report it first to their provider to make sure an error was not made, and then to the Senior Medicare Patrol if the situation is not resolved, Richardson said.
The Senior Medicare Patrol can be contacted at 1-877-425-2243 or at smpresource.org.