Add medication theft to scams that bite you twice: Internet Scambusters #577
What would you do if a "nurse" called at your home and asked to inspect your medications?
Or if you received a postcard offering you a free $100 store gift card? Or if a "respectable" magazine site asked you to pay to publish your research findings?
Find out why accepting any of these requests could lead to trouble in this week's Snippets issue.
Let's get started...
Medication and Gift Card Scams Threaten Double Danger
Crooks will try all sorts of tricks to get their hands on your prescription medication, either to feed their own addiction or to sell.
Painkillers are a particular target. Pills that cost a few cents on prescription may have a street value of $10 or $15 each.
That may explain a simple but remarkably effective new trick to steal medications from people in their homes.
The crook knocks on the door and claims to be a nurse from a health or social services department conducting checks for a program to help people with the cost of their prescriptions.
The scammer asks to see the meds in their bottles and then makes an excuse to go to his or her car to get a special form they supposedly forgot to bring in or to check the pills against a list they claim to have.
During this diversion, the crook removes any valuable pills and substitutes similar-looking ones, before returning to the victim's home and handing back the bottles.
This represents a double danger -- the loss of needed medication and the substitution of an alternative that could be dangerous if taken mistakenly.
The scam, which surfaced in Florida, seems to be aimed at older folk who are more likely to have the sought-after prescription drugs, often in higher quantities than might be prescribed to others.
Action: First of all, it's highly unlikely that this sort of check, if genuine, would be carried out in this way -- in a door-to-door survey.
Second, ask to see ID, check the vehicle that's being used (it should have an official license plate) and don't give out any information without independently confirming the caller's ID.
Ask them to call back later while you do this. If it's a scam, they won't return.
Get Money Smart
As we often report, seniors are also a prime target for investment scams.
This has prompted a new initiative from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
It's called Money Smart for Older Adults and provides information on how to prevent, identify and deal with financial exploitation.
Since it's a training program, it's particularly useful for seniors' groups but it can also be followed by an individual.
"Older Americans are vulnerable to financial exploitation," says CFPB Director Richard Cordray. "By working together with the FDIC on Money Smart for Older Adults, we will be better able to educate and empower seniors to avoid being victimized.
For more information and to download materials, visit Money Smart - A Financial Education Program.
Phony Magazine Sites
One group of people you might not think would be as vulnerable to scams are academics and scientists, who we might think of as being mentally very sharp.
But that hasn't stopped crooks from trying -- and they've applied their own brand of ingenuity and brainpower to come up with a convincing trick.
The scammers have created sites purporting to be from highly respected scientific journals and then, like spiders in the center of a web, sit there waiting for researchers to come along with reports they want to publish.
And they have, in the hundreds.
It's not unusual for researchers in some fields to pay for publication of their reports but in this case they hand their money straight to the crooks.
One problem is that the real publications themselves have no dedicated websites of their own, which is how victims end up at the scam sites.
According to the magazine Nature, which is NOT one of the affected publications, the forged sites look so convincing they've fooled other organizations that provide indexes of scientific papers.
One of these organizations was even tricked into providing links to the bogus websites.
Action: Research journals are a bit of a rarefied atmosphere and you're probably unlikely to be writing for one any time soon, but this scam does highlight a more general danger of accepting a site as genuine, without checking its authenticity before parting with money.
Snail Mail Gift Cards
These days we mostly think of mail scams as something we encounter in our email inbox, but they still can arrive the "old" way -- via the regular postal service.
Often these snail-mail scams operate just in a small locality but one that's hit the big time recently is a free gift card offer.
Again, this is something we're used to seeing in email but the postal version is somewhat more convincing.
It arrives on a postcard, with an offer of a free $100 gift card for Walmart or Target, which supposedly you can get just by calling a 1-800 number.
But prepare to be bitten twice!
The first scam is that, once connected, recipients are told they'll have to pay $6.95 for what's called a "processing fee" and, to do that, they have to pay with a bank debit card and provide other banking details.
While the crooks are draining their bank accounts, victims are connected to a sequence of spammy recorded messages with offers they have to accept before proceeding to the next one, with the lure that they'll only get the gift card once they've accepted the whole lot.
It is thought the crooks get some kind of payment or commission for each offer that's accepted.
And, of course, after all that, there's no gift card.
Acton: Well, there's no such thing as a free lunch and there's no such thing as a free gift card. Even if it was a genuine offer, you'd still have to do something to "pay" for it.
If you ever get into a situation where you have to accept an offer that involves giving money or personal details in order to move through a process, just quit!
As with most scams, this week's selection shows that a willingness to accept things at face value can take us down a path that leads to trouble -- and that, unlike taking your medications, they'll likely leave you in a lot of pain!
That's all for today -- we'll see you next week.