Posts Tagged ‘Social Security number’

Maine attorney general makes public aware of grocery voucher scam

By Ryan McLaughlin, BDN Staff
Posted Sept. 30, 2013, at 4:13 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Attorney General Janet Mills is warning Maine residents to be wary of a grocery voucher scam targeting the elderly.

The scam claims to offer individuals ages 60 and up $3,000 in free groceries and a Life Alert device.

The scammers have indicated a new government assistance program qualifies them for the phony benefits.

The pre-recorded phone calls ask recipients to press certain buttons before speaking with a representative. Those reporting the scam to Mills’ office did not speak with anyone and hung up the phone before a representative was reached.

“This is a new twist on an old scam,” said Mills. “There is no government program handing out free grocery vouchers or Life Alert devices to seniors. These are scammers sending out millions of pre-recorded calls looking for anyone who will take the bait and hand over personal information, which often includes credit card numbers, social security numbers and birthdays.”

 

Anyone with questions about these or other consumer matters should contact the consumer protection division of the attorney general’s office at 800-436-2131.

 FMI:  CONSUMER FORUM: New twist on old scam

 

State Officials Warn Consumers about Scams Related to Federal Health Reform Law (ACA)

GARDINER – Insurance Superintendent Eric Cioppa and Governor Paul R. LePage are warning the public about scams related to the federal health reform law (ACA). Various schemes have been reported throughout the country to take advantage of consumers’ uncertainty surrounding the law. Often posing as insurance agents or representatives of the government, these scammers attempt to sell fraudulent policies or obtain sensitive information like Social Security and bank account numbers.

Governor LePage encouraged people to contact the Bureau of Insurance if they receive calls or messages from individuals claiming to represent government agencies and offering to sell health insurance policies. “Consumers and business owners should be cautious when receiving an unsolicited sales pitch related to the ACA,” Governor LePage said. “Government representatives aren’t contacting consumers to sell insurance policies. We want Mainers to be vigilant about protecting their private information so they can avoid being scammed.”

Insurance Superintendent Cioppa reinforced that message and noted that insurance agents should not be asking for personal or financial information when explaining policy options. “Maine’s Bureau of Insurance is always available to assist consumers with questions or concerns about health insurance, and never contacts people to sell insurance products. Additionally, insurance agents should never request personal information, such as a Social Security Number or details related to financial accounts, when explaining health insurance policies.”

Maine’s Bureau of Insurance and the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) are highlighting common red flags and providing tips on how to avoid being the victim of a scam.

Fraudulent Health Insurance Marketplaces: One of the largest components of the ACA is the creation of federal health insurance marketplaces, or exchanges. These online portals ask consumers to enter information about themselves, and select the level of coverage they desire, to receive a list of plans they can purchase. Open enrollment in the new marketplaces begins October 1. However, bogus websites that purport to be part of the exchanges have been appearing online. Do not enter any personal or financial information into a website that says you can purchase a policy before the open enrollment period. More information is available at http://www.healthcare.gov.

New “Obamacare” Insurance or Medicare Cards: Another common ploy involves unsolicited calls from scammers who claim to have your new “Obamacare” insurance card. The scammer then asks for information in order to send the card to you, such as credit card numbers, bank account information or your Social Security Number. A variation targets seniors on Medicare, with the caller claiming that in order for the senior to get their new Medicare card and continue receiving their benefits, they must verify their bank account and routing numbers. Some callers ask for their Medicare numbers, which are identical to Social Security Numbers. You are not required to obtain a new insurance or Medicare card under the ACA. Also, legitimate representatives of the federal government will already have the information they need and should not ask for personal or financial details.

Salesperson says Premium Offer is Good for a Limited Time: Enrollment in the exchanges will be open from October 1 to March 31, and the rates for plans will be good for the entire enrollment period. Be skeptical of someone who is trying to pressure you into buying a policy because the rate is only good for a short time.

Salesperson says You Could Go to Jail for Not Having Health Insurance: Starting next year, all Americans will be required to have health insurance. You will not face jail time if you do not purchase health insurance. Those who remain uninsured and do not qualify for an exemption will face a penalty of $95 (for each adult) or 1% of family income, whichever is greater. In 2015, the penalty will increase to $325 per adult or 2% of family income, and in 2016 and beyond, the penalty will be $695 per adult or 2.5% of family income.

Unsolicited Call or E-mail from Government Official Selling Insurance: Federal and state government representatives are not contacting individual consumers to sell insurance. Do not give any sensitive information to anyone who claims to be with the federal government or the Maine Bureau of Insurance.

Cioppa urged consumers to contact the Bureau of Insurance to check the validity of an insurance product, agent or company, particularly if an unsolicited sales pitch is received. The Bureau of Insurance can be reached by calling 1-800-300-5000. Individual and small group health insurance plans to be offered in Maine on the federal exchange can be reviewed on the Bureau’s website (www.maine.gov/insurance). The website also contains a PowerPoint presentation regarding the ACA and Maine’s insurance market.

###

Beware of Affordable Care Act scams

CONSUMER FORUM

By Russ Van Arsdale, Executive director Northeast CONTACT
Posted Sept. 01, 2013, at 2:53 p.m.

If informed consumers are savvy consumers — and we believe that they are — then a lack of information can leave consumers vulnerable to all sorts of scam attempts. Such attempts are becoming more and more common in the run-up to Oct. 1, when Americans can begin signing up for health insurance coverage under the federal Affordable Care Act.

An official of the Federal Trade Commission was quoted recently as saying the commission has received more than 1,000 complaints about such scam attempts. That number is certain to rise in the next month, as scam artists smell money they’d like to take.

“Any time you roll out a big government program like this, confusion is inevitable,” Lois Greenman of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection said recently. Con artists prey on confusion by making several claims, all of which are false:

— You could be in serious trouble with the law — even be sent to jail — if you don’t sign up now (the truth is, you can’t even sign up until the first of October at the soonest).

— You need a new card to be eligible for Obamacare (truth: there’s no such card. Parting with your personal and financial information will only cost you money).

— You can get a special low monthly rate but only by signing up now (again, the Health Insurance Exchanges — also called the Marketplace — under the ACA won’t be in operation for another month; anyone trying to rush you is just trying to trick you).

As with many scam attempts, seniors may be especially vulnerable. The Maine Senior Medicare Patrol urges people to avoid giving personal and financial information to anyone they don’t know, especially cold callers. Don’t pay for services or help; the Marketplace is hiring and training people, called “navigators,” to assist consumers for free. Don’t sign anything you don’t understand; ask questions if something isn’t clear, and report anything that sounds suspicious.

Delays in implementing parts of the ACA have upset both critics and supporters of the law. The delays only add fuel to the fire that crooked callers try to set once they get you on the phone, or lure you through phony websites.

Other scam attempts will likely involve subsidies the ACA offers to consumers earning less than 400 percent of the federal poverty level — $45,960 for an individual in 2013, or $94,200 for a family of four. A caller might offer “direct deposit” if you’ll “confirm” your bank account and Social Security numbers.

There are some issues people receiving subsidies should consider, such as whether to take the entire subsidy up front or wait until filing their taxes the following year. Eric Cioppa, Superintendent of Maine’s Bureau of Insurance, says people should be prepared. “Consumers should discuss options with known, reputable individuals and sources of information, such as their independent insurance agent,” Cioppa said. People can also find summaries of new plans proposed for individual and small group markets at the bureau’s website, www.maine.gov/insurance. People with questions can call the bureau at 800-300-5000 or email Insurance.pfr@maine.gov.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

 

 

Reliable information offers best scam prevention

Have health insurance questions?
Click images for more information.
We are getting alerts from various agencies about telemarketing calls targeting seniors and other under the guise of assistance with the Health Insurance Marketplace.  Most recently a caller insisted that a consumer provide not only name, address, Social Security number but also bank tracking numbers to receive her new Medicare Card. THERE IS NO NEED FOR A NEW MEDICARE CARD.
Enrollment begins October 1, 2013 and coverage begins January 1, 2014.
We will continue to add resources.

Don’t take the bait: Avoid phishing scams

CONSUMER FORUM

By Russ Van Arsdale, Executive Director, Northeast CONTACT
Posted May 18, 2013, at 1 p.m.
 

There’s a kind of social engineering designed to part consumers from their hard-earned money.

It’s called phishing, and it’s become one of the most common scams. It was the fourth most common scam reported to the National Consumers League fraud center last year, and — when lumped in with all “imposter scams” — it ranked No. 8 in the top 10 frauds reported to the Federal Trade Commission.

Phishing involves a number of ways that con artists gain people’s trust and thereby gain access to their personal and/or financial information. Once that’s done, it’s a short step to stealing someone’s identity, cleaning out their bank account or otherwise wreaking havoc on their financial lives.

The director of consumer protection at the Consumer Federation of America says new phishing schemes are popping up every day.

“We want people to realize that it should be no different when someone approaches you online or by phone asking for that information,” Susan Grant said in a news release last week.

For whatever reason, some of us are more trusting of nameless, faceless people who hit us up by email or over the phone. Most of us would not think twice about refusing a request for personal information from someone who rang our doorbell; when that person makes an electronic approach, we might think twice.

That’s what the con artists want. They pretend to be someone they’re not: an employee of your bank, a government official or an officer of the company where you work. They call or email you with what sounds like a legitimate request for information; instead, it is a (sometimes) cleverly disguised way to get you to reveal your Social Security number, bank account number or other personal data that they can use.

The approach by telephone might be the easiest phishing attempt to ward off. You can simply say, “Sorry, I don’t do any business over the phone,” and hang up. It may be a little tougher when the come-on appears in your email.

It might say that you’ve left something off your income tax return: “Don’t delay your return — click here.” Or you may be asked for an account number “to pay the administrative fee on this prize you’ve won.” The variations are endless … and so is the phishing.

A common theme among phishing attempts: They are not what they seem to be. If you’re asked to click on a link, picture or anything from a source you don’t know, DON’T DO IT. You might be downloading malicious spyware onto your computer. You also could be redirected to another, unknown website where trouble awaits. A request to “join my social network” might really be a hook that someone is using to try to reel you in.


The Consumer Federation has a new video summarizing these and other helpful hints at www.consumerfed.org/fraud. If you think you have been a victim of identity theft, visit www.IDtheftINFO.org to find out what to do. There’s more information about scams and protecting your identity at the FTC website, www.consumer.ftc.gov.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

Thieves target children as easy victims of identity theft – Bangor Daily News

CONSUMER FORUM

By Russ Van Arsdale, Executive Director, Northeast CONTACT
Posted May 12, 2013, at 12:46 p.m.

Here’s a quick quiz: Which of the following scenarios means your child has become a victim of identity theft?

• You receive a notice from the Internal Revenue Service that your child did not pay income taxes, or that the child’s Social Security number was used on another person’s income tax return.

• You or your child are turned down for government benefits because benefits are being paid to another account bearing the child’s SSN.

• You get bills or collection calls for goods or services that you did not order.

The correct answer is: “All of the above.” Each scenario could be an example of a child’s identity being stolen.

A study by Carnegie Mellon CyLab in November 2011 found that 10.2 percent of more than 40,000 juveniles who were studied experienced some kind of identity theft or fraud. The comparable rate among adults was 0.2 percent.

Why the big difference? Children are routinely issued SSNs as infants; if a child’s number is stolen, the theft may not become apparent for months or even years. Those numbers are prime targets for thieves, who look for SSNs with clean histories. With them, thieves can commit financial fraud, do an end-around bad credit ratings and get around constraints placed on illegal immigrants.

Theft can also occur within families. A driver whose license is suspended or revoked might “borrow” the child’s SSN to establish a new identity and regain a license. A person might assume the identity of another family member to repair credit, apply for a job or to avoid arrest.

When a parent discovers that the child’s ID has been stolen, he or she bears the burden of proving that the child is in fact a child, and that the child did not run up the bills that someone else is trying to collect. The parent becomes lead investigator, trying to figure out how the child’s personal information got into the wrong hands while setting the record straight.

When a person turns 18 and applies for financial aid for college or tries to rent an apartment, only then might he or she discover that his or her identity was stolen years before. The investigation becomes a cold case, with a fraudulently obtained credit history in shambles and no way to find out exactly what happened. The thief often uses the identity until the credit history is destroyed and the thief can no longer get credit using that identity.

Parents are urged to check their child’s credit history when the child is no older than 16, to make sure that history is clear (access the three major reporting agencies for a free annual report at www.AnnualCreditReport.com).

The nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center (www.idtheftcenter.org) says sometimes parents who get in financial trouble use the SSN of their own child in an effort to rebuild their financial lives. They may think they will pay off their bills in time, so that their child’s credit history won’t be damaged; that may or may not be the case.

Identity theft was the Federal Trade Commission’s leading complaint last year (the 13th straight year the crime ranked number one), with over 369,000 complaints. The FTC has step-by-step help at its website: http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0014-identity-theft. The Maine Attorney General’s website ( http://www.maine.gov/ag/consumer/index.shtml) has a checklist of action steps as well. Victims may also contact the Identity Theft Resource Center at 888-400-5530.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

To prevent identity theft, guard your Social Security number

CONSUMER FORUM

By Russ Van Arsdale, Executive Director, Northeast CONTACT
Posted Feb. 17, 2013, at 3:12 p.m.

Almost everything you read about preventing identity theft advises that you guard your Social Security number, or SSN, like gold. Why, then, do some agencies insist that you carry certain documents containing your SSN everywhere you go? And as one local consumer asked us, why when you call some companies does everyone who answers the phone need to know your SSN?

We know that identity thieves try all sorts of tricks to access our SSNs. With the numbers and some other personal information, they can open accounts or apply for jobs posing as you. They can also try to get a refund from the Internal Revenue Service; alert the IRS immediately if you receive a letter saying:

• The IRS has information you’ve been paid by an employer that you don’t know.

• It has received more than one tax return with your name on it.

The IRS will work with you to straighten things out. Of course, it’s simpler if you can avoid the hassle in the first place by keeping your SSN out of the hands of thieves.

That can be a problem if you carry it everywhere. Thieves are not shy about picking your pocket or handbag and helping themselves to your SSN, as well as whatever cash you might be carrying. For that reason, experts in preventing identity theft advise you to leave your Social Security card and other documents that contain your number at home, unless it’s mandatory that you have it.

That’s where the San Diego-based Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, or PRC, has a problem with some companies and government agencies. PRC notes that in 2006, the U.S. Government Accounting Office found that 42 million Medicare cards, eight million Department of Defense ID cards and seven million Veterans Affairs ID cards carried SSNs. It took until the middle of 2011 for the numbers to begin disappearing from the military IDs.

The Social Security Number Protection Act became law in December 2010, but will take three years to fully implement. Many consumers are unhappy that their SSNs appear on their Medicare cards, which they may feel obligated to carry. The PRC suggests you photocopy your Medicare (or other) insurance card and either blacken or cut out the last four numbers of your SSN. Cut the photocopy to wallet size and carry that, instead of your card with the full number on it. Once you’re in a database, that should be sufficient for identification or authentication purposes.

The “last four numbers of your Social” has become a theme song for entities that still use SSNs as identifiers. We’re asked to believe that revealing a partial number is not risky. Consumers Union, publishers of Consumer Reports, disagreed in a September 2007 letter to the Federal Trade Commission, saying “use of even a partial SSN may be an ineffective authenticator given the widespread availability of these numbers.”

During this tax season, identity thieves are sending out bogus emails by the millions, trying to trick us. Don’t give personal or financial information to a caller or email purporting to be from the IRS — the agency does not do business in those ways. And don’t click on anything in any unsolicited email.

For more on the subject, visit the Federal Trade Commission website at www.ftc.gov and search “tax related identity theft.”

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

A (Potentially) Taxing Situation | Consumer Information from FTC

February 12, 2013

by

Carol Kando-Pineda
Attorney, FTC

Tax season is here. It’s time to get your files and forms in order. You may be well-versed in W-2s and 1099’s, but do you know that an identity thief can mess up your tax files or even get to your tax refund before you can file for it?

Tax-related ID theft can happen in a few ways; all of them involve your Social Security Number (SSN). If someone uses your SSN to get a job, the employer reports that person’s income to the IRS using your SSN. When you file your tax return, you don’t include those earnings. The IRS doesn’t know those wages were reported by an employer you don’t know, so the agency would send you a notice or letter saying you didn’t report that income.

Sometimes an identity thief uses your SSN to file for — and get — your tax refund before you file. Then, when you file your return, IRS records show the first filing and the refund. You’ll get a notice or letter from the IRS saying more than one return was filed for you.

If this happens to you — or if the IRS sends you any notice or letter indicating a problem — contact them immediately. Visit the IRS  online or call 1-800-908-4490. Specialists will help you get your tax return filed, get you any refund you may be due, and protect your IRS account from identity thieves in the future.

One additional point: the IRS never starts contact with a taxpayer using email, text, or social media that asks for personal or financial information. If you get an email that claims to be from the IRS, do yourself a favor: don’t reply or click on any links.  Instead, forward it to phishing@irs.gov.

On February 20 and 21, 2013, the FTC, federal and state enforcement agencies, and consumer advocacy groups will hold a series of Town Halls in South Florida to discuss how to combat tax-related ID theft.

If you suspect identity theft, learn more about how to repair the damage.

Get a check from the federal government? Watch out for scams

CONSUMER FORUM
By Russ Van Arsdale, executive director, Northeast Contact
Posted Jan. 13, 2013, at 5:41 p.m.

Ever since the federal government said it would stop sending paper checks in favor of using direct deposit, scam artists have been hard at work. With a March 1 deadline for the switch coming, expect crooks to ramp up their illegal efforts.

Scammers call, write or email to phish for personally identifiable information, such as Social Security numbers. Once they have enough information, the crooks can claim a false identity and set up an account to receive federal payments.

The U.S. Treasury Department is getting the word out that the switch to direct deposit will be complete as of March 1. Everyone who receives Social Security, veterans’ or other federal benefits should be aware that many such payments will no longer be made by paper checks.

There are two basic reasons for the change, which has been under way for a number of months. Right now, about 93 percent of all federal payments are directly deposited. The Eastern Area Agency on Aging, or EAAA, estimates 3,200 recipients in Hancock, Washington, Penobscot and Piscataquis counties are still receiving paper checks. Fully implementing direct deposit is expected to save the government $4.6 million a month, or a billion dollars over the next decade.

It’s also intended to make those federal payments more secure. Federal statistics show that more than 440,000 Social Security checks were stolen in 2011, and $70 million in checks were fraudulently endorsed. Direct deposit is expected to cut those figures dramatically.

Dyan Walsh, EAAA’s director of community services, says about 300,000 Mainers use direct deposit. “It’s a safety issue,” Walsh says, “to reduce the chance of anything happening to those payments.”

However, there are still risks. Those scammers are already on the phones, claiming to be government officials and asking people for the information that will help the crooks steal their money. Be aware: Governments don’t call or email and ask personal questions; if someone calls you claiming to be a federal official and wants personal information, just hang up.

Instead, you should take the initiative to make sure your payments are secure. The Treasury Department has launched the Go Direct campaign, explaining and promoting the change at www.GoDirect.org. Information is also available through a toll-free call to 800-333-1795, from 8 a.m to 8 p.m. Eastern time, Monday-Friday.

You can arrange for direct deposit to your bank or credit union account, either by phone or online. Christopher Pinkham, president of the Maine Bankers Association, says people in the industry are ready to answer customers’ concerns, especially about safety.

“It’s remarkable how well [direct deposit] works,” he told me.

Visit your bank or credit union and ask questions directly, if using the phone or email makes you uneasy.

You may opt to receive your payments by way of what’s called Direct Express Debit Mastercard. There’s no charge to sign up for the prepaid debit card, and most services are free. Those who have not arranged direct deposit by March 1 will receive their payments this way.

When making the switch you’ll need your Social Security number or claim number; 12-digit federal benefit check number; amount of most recent federal benefit check; financial institution’s routing transit number, and your account number and type — checking or savings. Work with a trusted friend or relative if you need help.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

Maine’s Department of Professional and Financial Regulation Announces Cease and Desist Order Against “Woodhaven Advisors”

Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection says company is a predatory advance fee loan scam, falsely claiming to be located in Portland, Maine

GARDINER – Maine’s Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection issued a Cease and Desist Order against Woodhaven Advisors this week and warned consumers about this nationwide phony consumer loan company falsely claiming to be located on Forest Avenue in Portland.

A consumer in Oklahoma contacted the Bureau seeking licensing information about Woodhaven Advisors, which maintains a professional-looking website (www.woodhavenadvisors.com).  The company offered the consumer a $10,000 loan in exchange for four upfront monthly “collateral payments” of $200.38 totaling more than $800.

A Bureau investigation revealed that no lender by the name of Woodhaven Advisors is located at the Portland address listed on the site.  As a result of the investigation, the Bureau issued a formal Cease and Desist Order against Woodhaven Advisors on November 27, 2012 (www.WoodhavenAdvisors11_27_12.com).

“Woodhaven Advisors is not registered with the Bureau to make or broker consumer loans to Maine or out-of-state borrowers,” said David Leach, Principal Examiner with the Bureau. “The company is also not listed in corporate filings with the Secretary of State’s Office.  Additionally, the Portland City Clerk’s office confirmed that no such company is located at the address listed on the company’s website, nor is Woodhaven Advisors registered to do business in Portland.”

Leach sent an inquiry to the company’s “customer care” e-mail address.  The company responded on November 26, 2012 with profane language.

Advance fee consumer loans are illegal in Maine and the remainder of the United States.  Consumers who fall victim to advance fee loan scams pay the upfront money, but never receive the promised loan funds.  When consumers follow through with transactions of this kind from fraudulent lenders, they are often directed to wire advance fee funds, using services such as Western Union, Money Gram or Green Dot, to Canada or another foreign country.

“Once the money is wired or mailed to the scammers, there is little if any chance of recovering those funds,” Leach added.

The on-line application from Woodhaven Associates asks applicants to disclose their Social Security number, street address, and telephone and email contact information.  The disclosure of personal financial information such as Social Security numbers, dates of birth and bank account information can lead to a subsequent identity theft incident and additional losses of funds.

The Bureau notes that Maine has issued licenses to many reputable lenders and loan brokers, and advises consumers to never wire or mail advanced, certified funds to unknown consumer lenders or brokers. The Bureau recommends that consumers deal only with known, licensed lenders and brokers, and encourages consumers to call the Bureau (207-624-8527) to verify the license status of any company engaged in the consumer loan business. The Bureau also maintains a roster of licensed supervised lenders and loan brokers on its website, www.Credit.Maine.gov .

###

The Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection is part of Maine’s Department of Professional and Financial Regulation, which encourages sound ethical business practices through high quality, impartial and efficient oversight of insurers, financial institutions, creditors, investment providers, and numerous professions and occupations.  Consumers can reach the Department at www.maine.gov/pfr.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 72 other followers

%d bloggers like this: