By Jan Engoren

Spoofing, spamming, scamming, robocalls, ransomware, spyware, bots, phishing and pharming are all methods criminals use to get your information in an effort to defraud you.

“There’s a scam for each of us, and seniors are especially vulnerable,” says Brianna Tabil, public technology trainer for the city of Boynton Beach. “Scammers do their homework.”

12420174658?profile=RESIZE_180x180Tabil gives a class titled “Protect Yourself Against Scammers, Spammers and Hackers” at the Boynton Beach City Library.

Some of the scams purport to involve investments, computer tech support and Medicare.

In the “grandma” scam, a caller will try to convince the target that a loved one has been kidnapped or is in financial trouble.

Those impersonations tap into AI technology to duplicate a loved one’s voice. Experts suggest setting up a “safe word” and asking the person on the phone to verbalize that word.

“For seniors, their kindness and desire to trust makes them an easy target,” Tabil said. “Scammers target seniors because their knowledge may be limited.”

For example, in one type of scam, a caller will pretend to be from Medicare or another government agency to trick you into sharing your Medicare or Social Security number.

Tabil says this scam is used to gather personal information and commit identity theft.

According to the National Council on Aging, taxpayers lose more than $100 billion each year to Medicare fraud.

Scammers may interest you with free items or services, or pressure you to switch your Medicare plan so they can get your personal information and file fraudulent claims such as for genetic testing or prescription drugs.

The NCOA says scammers may offer valuable medical equipment, persuade seniors to share their Medicare number, and use that information to file high-cost Medicare claims in the beneficiary’s name.

They may entice you with offers of better benefits, saying you are “pre-approved” for a new health care plan or drug plan with lower premiums or better benefits. 

But, remember, Medicare will never call you to sell you anything or visit you at home.

Other scams include sweepstakes and lottery scams where the caller or email claims you’ve won some money; social engineering scams aiming to steal your personal information; online crime using fake bank websites; robocalls; dating and romance scams; fake seller scams; insurance scams, and even puppy scams, where scammers pretend to be dog breeders and take your money without sending the promised breed or puppy.

During the pandemic, Tabil was the target of a fraudulent unemployment scam, where someone was seeking to obtain her personal information. But she recognized the email as suspicious.

Judy Smith, a retired office worker, and Larry Berdoll, a retired airline pilot, both from Boynton Beach, said they learned from the class.

After her computer was infected with a virus from a fraudulent bank website, Smith had to reset her computer to its factory settings.

Lynn Berdoll, a Friend of the Boynton Library, said she’s tech savvy, but wanted to keep both herself and her husband abreast of the evolving scams.

What to do?

Tabil says to report suspected fraud and create a separate email address for solicitations and promotions. She suggests signing up for the Federal Trade Commission’s Do Not Call Registry, which takes only a moment.

Personally, she subscribes to the Robokiller app for $4.99 a month, which weeds out spam phone calls.

Do not provide personal information to someone who calls out of the blue and asks for information, such as Medicare numbers, Social Security numbers, credit card numbers and bank account numbers.

Check suspicious emails carefully. Tabil says there are clues to determine whether the email is from a trusted source. Check the address, the grammar and spelling, the links in the body of the email (don’t click on them) and whether they’re asking for money.

If, by chance, you sent money in response to a scam or phishing email, Tabil suggests alerting your local police department, the FBI, the Better Business Bureau, the FTC and in Florida, the Florida attorney general at MyFloridaLegal.com.

Tips to avoid being scammed include blocking unwanted calls and texts, hanging up immediately, not divulging personal or financial information, not downloading attachments from unknown sources or clicking on links from suspicious emails, and stopping to think before handing over money.

Resist the pressure to act immediately. Never pay someone who insists you pay with a gift card or money transfer. No legitimate business will ask to be paid with a gift card.

Also, common scammer requests are for payments with P2P (peer-to-peer) apps such as Venmo or Zelle.

AARP recommends using these apps only with people or services you know, because these transferred funds are difficult to recoup. Use a bank credit card, so if charges are fraudulent, your bank can assist you with reversing them.

So, should you buy that longed-for 70-inch flat-screen smart TV with all the bells and whistles from Facebook Marketplace?

“Be wary,” Tabil says. “Know that you and all of us are potential victims.

“Do your due diligence and be smart. Know what to do if you get scammed.”

If you suspect you are a victim of fraud, call the AARP Fraud Watch Network at 877-908-3360.

To report Medicare fraud, call 800-633-4227.

To sign up for a class at the Boynton Beach City Library, visit www.boynton-beach.org/204/Library and click on “programs,” or call 561-742-6390.

Jan Engoren writes about health and healthy living. Send column ideas to jengoren@hotmail.com.

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