SAN ANTONIO – As the holiday season is approaching, Americans are facing increased financial risks or identify theft during the COVID-19 pandemic.
With financial fraud skyrocketing, Randolph-Brooks Federal Credit Union, a KSAT Community partner, has listed tips and resources on how to protect your information and passwords online.
You can spot scammers with these tips:
- Don’t give out personal information when you didn’t initiate the contact.
- Phone calls may appear to be from valid phone numbers.
- Financial institutions and trusted sources won’t contact you asking for information.
- Some emails seem to come from a trusted source asking you to update personal information.
- Some claim they’re from the IRS and talk about a tax refund.
- Don’t open emails that aren’t anticipated.
- Be on the lookout for money being solicited for fake charities.
- This is especially common during the pandemic and natural disasters.
More and more older Americans are getting connected to technology and participating in social media, yet along with the fun of seeing images of their grandchildren also come the risks of falling to an online scam. Chief among these is phishing, which falls into the broad category of cybercrime – criminal activity carried out by means of the computer or the internet.
Phishing targets people of all ages when they are contacted by email, telephone or text message by someone posing as a legitimate and trusted person or institution. By building trust, these scammers can lure individuals into providing sensitive data such as personally identifiable information, banking and credit card details and passwords.
“Phishing sounds and looks very simple and basic, but it is a very effective weapon scammers use to cause complex and heavy financial damage,” said Brain Munsterteiger, Vice President of Enterprise Fraud Management for RBFCU. “Always be vigilant while using your email or text messages, and certainly during phone calls from someone you don’t recognize. If you feel you may be a victim of phishing, get in touch with your financial institution immediately.”
There are some important considerations regarding phishing that will be listed here, but one fact should be stated before anything else credit unions, banks, creditors, financial institutions and government agencies will not initiate contact with you for the purpose of obtaining your personal identifying information and account information over the phone or through other communication.
You should also know the following:
- The majority of phishing schemes against the elderly are initiated over the telephone
- Elderly individuals are frequently targeted because of their willingness to listen and are often more trusting
- Fraudsters will appear friendly, sincere, sympathetic, and willing to help
- If friendliness and sympathy do not work, the fraudster may use fear tactics
All seniors should be informed that they can protect themselves by not clicking any attachments in emails sent from an unknown or suspicious address.
RBFCU also provides educational resources on how to recognize phishing and protect yourself from it. Anyone can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission if they suspect they are a victim of a phishing attack or other cybercrime.
Medicare scams often involve fraudsters posing as health care professionals or Medicare representatives who attempt to have the elderly provide personal information and/or their Medicare ID number. If fraudsters are successful in obtaining this information, they can use it to bill Medicare for fraudulent purchases and pocket the money.
It’s important to know that Medicare will rarely contact beneficiaries for information. If contact is made via telephone, Medicare will not ask for specific account numbers, details, or personal identifying information.
“Fraudsters see the expansion in the business surrounding Medicare programs as a big opportunity to prey upon individuals who are in a vulnerable position,” Munsterteiger said. “People in these situations should do their best to reach out to proven Medicare providers and verified representatives and never share your personal information from an unsolicited phone call or other communication.”
If you receive a phone call from someone identifying themselves as a Medicare representative, remember these tactics fraudsters will use to obtain the personal information and Medicare ID:
- The caller will ask to verify account information to order a new ID card
- The caller will advise you that your card and account ID has been compromised
- The caller will offer free or discounted medical products
- The caller will inform you that a refund is coming
The caller may state that information is required in order to proceed with the request or for you to take advantage of the benefits.
Don’t continue with the call; make a note of the phone number from your caller ID and hang up. You can report suspected Medicare fraud by calling 1-800-MEDICARE or report online through the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services. For more information, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau offers information on how to guard your new Medicare ID card.
According to surveys cited by AARP, the Baby Boomer generation has accounted for more than 40% of charitable contributions in recent years. The average age of a charitable donor in the U.S. is 64.
Many older Americans look for opportunities to give from their wealth, but in today’s social climate there has been an increase of individuals preying on the generosity and goodwill of people from all social, age, and political demographics. Fraudsters now have a variety of outlets to take advantage of these situations.
It is important to ask questions and verify facts before contributing to charities, particularly in the following situations:
- Unauthorized fundraising for high-profile events such as COVID-19, natural disasters, terminal disease awareness and political causes
- Solicitations via mail, telephone, door-to-door, social media and third-party party fundraising websites
- Fraudsters will often provide names, website links and marketing information from legitimate fundraisers to make the scam appear legitimate
- The fraudster will attempt to create urgency to donate now; this is an attempt to deter you from conducting research to validate the campaign
- A request for payment by cash, gift card, wire transfer or other non-refundable payment types
“We all benefit from the generosity of others, particularly those who have worked so hard for many years building the type of financial status that allows them to be charitable donors and join a worthy cause,” said Munsterteiger. “It feels good to help, but use caution when you look to get involved in charity. Be particularly careful with requests that may sound they are responding to a pressing, current need and are urgent with their requests for assistance.”
As with all scams and fraud, knowledge is power. Ask questions, do your research, and avoid providing information to unsolicited emails, phone calls, and social media messages. If you suspect that you have been targeted by a scam, you can report this and any other consumer-related problem by filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.
If you believe your account, username or password has been compromised, contact your financial institution followed by the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), call 1-877-ID-THEFT (1-877-438-4338) to report identity theft or visit online. To report elder fraud, click here.
KSAT Community operates in partnership with University Health System, Energy Transfer and Randolph-Brooks Federal Credit Union.