Medical alert, obesity tax, bogus bishops and broken glass scams: Internet Scambusters #557
Scammers throughout the US are pestering seniors with offers of supposed free medical devices -- in exchange for credit card and Social Security details.
In the meanwhile, crooks are using other tricks to target parents, churches and just regular pedestrians to get their hands on victims' money or financial information.
We have all the details in this week's Snippets issue.
Let's get started...
Medical Alert & Sugar Tax Scams Used for ID Theft
A massive new scam involving medical alert systems for seniors is sweeping the country.
The scam takes a number of different forms, but it's simple and effective.
It targets seniors, either telling them that they've ordered the equipment and it's about to be delivered or offering them supposedly free alert devices.
Read on for the details in this week's Snippets issue, along with a clutch of other new con tricks to be on the lookout for.
Bogus Medical Alert Scam
The main format of this scam starts with an automated robocall telling the victim that a friend or relative has placed their name on a list to get a free device they can use to raise the alarm if they suffer an injury or become critically ill.
The call tells victims to press a key on their phone to accept the device. This either connects them to a high-pressure telesales person or they're told to hang up and the salesperson calls them back.
Either way, they're told they have to pay a monthly monitoring fee (usually $35) for which they must give their credit card number, including the security number on the back.
They may also be asked for their Social Security number.
If they resist, the scammer insists the order has already been placed and can't be revoked, making the victims feel powerless to resist.
The main aim seems to be identity theft but it's also possible that crooks could use the information either to get access to a victim's home or to bill them every month for a worthless service.
Action: There are legitimate companies selling medical alert systems but they almost certainly won't use automated recordings, which are illegal in most circumstances.
They won't try to schedule delivery of something you didn't order and they certainly won't ask for your Social Security number.
If you're interested in buying a medical alert system, speak to a trusted health or social services professional, a family member or organize it yourself.
Hang up or shut the door on solicitors, no matter what they say.
Make sure you're on the Do Not Call Register. See How to Put a Stop to Telemarketing Harassment.
Then if anyone does call you (even a human!) there's a high chance it's a scam.
Pass the word on this scam to the people you love since it's growing so fast and it is often hard to detect that it's a scam if you aren't forewarned.
No Sugar Tax
Another sneaky way of trying to get hold of credit card and Social Security details targets the other end of the age-range -- schoolchildren or, at least, their parents.
The scam comes in the form of an email that claims a new nationwide tax will be levied on school meals to fund a program aimed at reducing obesity.
The amount of money is trivial and the scam claims it's called a "sugar tax" -- but it has to be paid by credit card, supported by details of Social Security numbers.
Action: There may be obesity among school kids but there's no sugar tax.
Parents at several schools have received these emails.
In at least one case it seems that computers at a legitimate online payments service used by schools may have been hacked to get names and addresses of parents.
Make sure you independently check out and confirm any payment request you get from your children's school.
A few churches have recently paid the price of being too trusting when a scammer posing as an out-of-state bishop from the same denomination calls them to ask for help with a relative who's moving to their town.
The caller says the relative plans to join the local congregation and he (the caller) just wants the local pastor to know about them.
A few days later, the pastor receives another call, this time from the supposed relative, claiming to have been in a highway accident and -- guess what -- asking for financial help via a money-wiring service.
Of course, if they send it, the pastor and his church never see the money again -- or the supposed relative.
Action: If you belong to a church, make sure everyone is aware of this scam.
And, of course, never wire money to someone you don't know.
Broken Glass Scam
Finally, we've all heard of those tricksters who lurk in parking lots so they can claim you bumped either them or their vehicles, but now they've abandoned autos in favor of person-to-person clashes.
The trick works like this:
You're walking down the street when you collide with another person who drops a bag containing a bottle or other glass object such as reading glasses.
The crook then accuses you of breaking the glasses or bottle, which of course contained a costly liquid like liquor or medicine, and demands you pay up.
Oftentimes, the crook may be pushing a bicycle with the bag dangling from the handlebars.
Action: This is a tough one. If you're isolated or otherwise in a vulnerable position, it may be safer to pay up.
Avoid confrontation and report the incident to police, along with a description of the other person.
These crooks are also looking for an easy "mark," someone who's not paying attention to the direction in which they're walking. So keep your eyes peeled and they'll avoid you.
Sharpening your senses is a crucial defense against scammers.
Whether they're offering you a free medical alert, asking you for money or trying to pry your confidential information from you, stay vigilant!
That's all for today -- we'll see you next week.