Seniors: Beware of con artists targeting you
South Florida seniors: Take extra precautions because you are prime targets for scams, identity theft and other schemes, according to a Monday fraud prevention seminar.
“You are your own best protection,” said U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, who sponsored the program at a Pembroke Pines senior center to warn retirees as she said South Florida leads the nation in both Medicare fraud and identity theft.
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Wasserman Schultz said seniors need to be especially on guard against:
Emails offering free things or announcing a prize in a contest that the retirees haven’t entered. “If it sounds too good to be true, it is,” Wasserman Schultz said.
Free Medicare services that the federal government isn’t sponsoring. Instead, it may be a ploy for a scamster to get a senior’s identity or a way for thieves to get retirees’ personal information to fraudulently bill the government, she said.
People asking for Medicare numbers, which are seniors’ Social Security numbers. Or scamsters may try to get that information by reading the seniors’ monthly Medicare statements. “Don’t keep your Medicare statements in the open — even in your house,” Wasserman Schultz advised.
Seniors should never carry their Social Security on them to avoid thieves snatching their wallets or purses and then being able to steal their identity, she added.
Wasserman Schultz also urged seniors to report any scams to authorities.
“It’s not something to be ashamed of,” she said, adding many elderly people are believed not to report when they have been bilked because they’re embarrassed.
Seniors can report suspected Medicare fraud at a toll-free number, 866-357-6677.
Sandra Colon, an outreach consultant with the Senior Medicare Patrol program, said Medicare users should check monthly statements to make sure no services are being improperly billed to the federal government.
She also warned people to be aware of scamsters calling retirees, pretending they are relatives who need money. Other con artists call targets for credit card payments to take care of tickets or missed jury appearances, Colon added.
People at the meeting spoke of their worries about being taken advantage of.
Lou Greenwell of Pembroke Pines said he was concerned with many restaurants taking away his credit card for a few minutes to process his meal payment. “I don’t know who has it,” he said.
Broward Sheriff’s OfficeDetective Nora Schwartz said he was right to be concerned with a few restaurant employees illegally “skimming” the cards information to steal identities. It’s even worse to use debit cards as the fraudsters can drain bank accounts, she added.
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Giving cash is better, the detective said. After being an identity theft victim herself, Schwartz now goes to an ATM machine for cash before she goes out to eat.
Susan Berkowitz of Boca Raton said she traveled to the meeting to learn about what she can do after thieves stole her identity to file a tax return for a refund. She said she still can” get her refund because of the thieves filing a return first.
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