Sadly, while reports of scams and fraudulent activity were initially included with news items of interest on the site, it became clear that there were enough reports to merit a page of their own. Tennessee seniors deserve better than to be victimized in what should be their golden years. The best defensive strategy is knowledge and awareness of criminal behavior. It is much harder for con artists to succeed if you shut them out. Visit this page regularly for tips on the latest scams, targets, and appropriate responses.
You may also find useful information on AARP's Scams and Frauds page, as well as this site's own page on combatting fraud. For information on reporting Medicare fraud, visit STOP Medicare Fraud's Report Fraud page. Additionally, reports and tips regarding fraud are available online from the FBI, the Office of Inspector General, and the Federal Trade Commission.
The top six scams run in the United States, as provided by CBS News, are as follows:
1. Fake checks
2. Bad Internet sales – products never delivered or misrepresented
3. Sweepstakes/prize/free gift cons that request payment to get your winnings
4. Advance fee cons that promise a loan or line of credit, if you pay them first
5. Scams that attempt to get personal information to access to your accounts, your tax refund, or to open credit cards in your name
6. Recovery/refund cons that promise past victims a recovery of swindled funds in exchange for a fee
Read the full article for more information.
Added January 27, 2014
CBS News Moneywatch suggests you watch out for a $9.84 charge on your statements. A criminal, or criminals, figured out that a person was much less likely to question a charge for $9.84 than for, say, $9840.00. Think about it. If you took just $9.84 from a million people, you would have almost 10 million dollars. And $9.84 is not something most people would get worked up about; they might assume they just forgot a purchase.
Of course, it could be any small amount. Chances are, after a report like this, thieves will stop using $9.84 because people will be looking for that figure. The point is, don't take even the small charges for granted. Look your bank and credit card statements over closely each month, line by line. If something isn't familiar, think about questioning it.
Added January 27, 2014
News Channel 5 shares another warning, this time about a phone scam in which the caller pretends to be a member of the Rutherford County Sheriff's Office. There have been several reports of this scam made to both the Murfreesboro police and the actual Rutherford County Sheriff's Department.
The man calling claims to be "Lt. Johnson." There is no Lt. Johnson with the Sheriff's Office. Of course, the caller could claim to be anyone. In one call, he stated to a mother that her daughter had missed jury duty and would be arrested if he was not paid $120. You would never make a payment like that to a law enforcement officer.
If you receive a call like this and have caller ID, write down the number, hang up, and notify the Sheriff's Office at 615-898-7770.
Added January 22, 2014
You're a grandparent. You get a call. It's your grandchild (or someone claiming to be your grandchild). He or she is away from home, outside the state, or maybe even outside the country (supposedly). There's been an arrest, legal trouble, send money! There might even be someone claiming to be a lawyer on the phone.
It's happened to a Hendersonville, Tennessee grandmother. The calls started in mid-December, and it wasn't until the real grandson called to ask her about Christmas that anyone knew anything was wrong. She asked if he was still in Mexico; he hadn't gone to Mexico. The scam was conducted by two people, one claiming to be the grandson, the other his lawyer. They convinced the woman not to speak of it to anyone, warning that it could have an impact on the case, claiming it could land her grandson in jail for eight years.
She sent everything she had: $75,000.
CNN Money, in its own report, discusses this scam in more detail. It's grown dramatically. According to CNN, the Federal Trade Commission "recorded 743 incidences" of this scam in 2009. By 2010, the number had grown to more than 40,000.
It can happen anywhere. It can happen to you. It can happen to your grandparents. Learn from others, share this story.
Added January 15, 2014
News Channel 5 shares a warning about a specific newspaper ad offering "easy to use" cell phones for free. Careful, there are costs! And the company placing the ad and offering the phones will encourage add-ons, like a warranty and a car charger. In the end, the "free" phone can cost you $100 or more. The report includes an interview with Better Business Bureau President and CEO Kathleen Calligan. She explains that the company behind this ad has had many complaints.
Although this report is about a specific ad and company, it is important to always be suspicious of "free" offers that need money from you. And remember, if you become uncomfortable, especially when dealing with someone over the phone, there is nothing wrong with ending a call. It's okay to change your mind. It's okay to hang up, even if you made the call.
Added January 8, 2014
This News 2 report, while centered in Knoxville, describes something that could happen anywhere. Three women are apparently visiting various assisted living facilities, pretending their visits are for family members. They even pretend to fill out forms! In reality, they are waiting until facility staff members are tending to business or are distracted, at which point the three women begin looking for things like credit cards. After stealing a credit card and driver's license from one location, the women "spent $2,000 at a local Best Buy and $6,000 at various other stores." Again, they have hit multiple facilities.
Since they haven't been caught, these three may try again. If they know they've made the news, they may change their behavior. The three may no longer visit the same target together, or they may stop visiting assisted living facilities but choose something similar. Remember, valuables should always be secured—even in places where you are comfortable, like your office.
Added December 11, 2013
News Channel 5 reports on accusations out of Hendersonville, Tennessee against two men: Henry Cooper and George Lee. The two are accused of preying upon and scamming an elderly Sumner County woman, using a "home repair" cheat for which they repeatedly charged her thousands.
Of the two men, only Henry Cooper has been arrested. Police are still searching for George Lee. Anyone with information about Lee, including his location or other possible victims, please call the Hendersonville Police at (615) 822-1111.
As included in the Channel 5 report: "Anonymous tips that may be eligible for a reward can be submitted to Crime Stoppers by calling (615) 573-5400, or texting a tip to CRIMES (274637) using keyword 'TIPHPD'. Anonymous tips may also be submitted online at www.crimereports.com."
Added December 9, 2013
The United States Senate Special Committee on Aging made the following announcement this week:
"If you or someone you know suspect you’ve been victim of a scam or fraud aimed at seniors, the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging has set up a new toll-free hotline to help.
"The hotline was unveiled today to make it easier for senior citizens to report suspected fraud and receive assistance. It will be staffed by a team of committee investigators weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST. The investigators, who have experience with investment scams, identity theft, bogus sweepstakes and lottery schemes, Medicare and Social Security fraud, and a variety of other senior exploitation issues, will directly examine complaints and, if appropriate, refer them to the proper authorities.
"Anyone with information about suspected fraud can call the toll-free fraud hotline at 1-855-303-9470, or contact the committee through its website, located at http://www.aging.senate.gov/fraud-hotline."
Added November 14, 2013
According to a report in Cookeville's Herald-Citizen, a scam that has recently come to Cookeville has already been associated with other hospitals around the country. Those attempting the scam target elderly patients, claim they are with a local medical center (in this case, CRMC), and inquire about renewing a prescription. Given the nature of the scam, a phone call, this could happen anywhere.
The phone number associated with the scam is 866-218-7985. That number is a red flag. Of course, the call could come from another number in the future.
Cookeville Regional does not make calls or offer services of this kind. The safest approach to take if someone calls about prescription renewal and asks for personal information is to hang up. You can make the contact yourself if you need to renew a prescription.
Added November 1, 2013
This scam does not affect everyone with a cell phone. Not all cell phone models have a SIM card. That said, the story illustrates again the need to protect personal information. This scam works when people give away sensitive information, like social security numbers, without knowing the person to whom they are giving the information.
You are the ultimate guardian of your personal information. Don't be afraid to ask questions when someone wants you to share it. When called, don't be afraid to hang up on someone if a situation doesn't feel right. Don't be afraid to say no, and if you feel you have already been victimized, don't be afraid to report it.
Added October 24, 2013
The National Council on Aging (NCOA) has provided a short, but essential, list of tips for avoiding fraud. Both the Medicare Open Enrollment period and the new health insurance Marketplaces make this an especially active time for scam artists; they see many new opportunities—many new potential victims. The best way to protect yourself is to know what to avoid.
Added October 23, 2013
Nashville's News Channel 5 is warning of a phone scam in which potential victims are called by someone claiming to be a judge. The caller claims "you" have been found guilty and convicted of a crime. What are you expected to do about it? Send money, of course. (As if you could buy your way out of something so serious.) Follow the link above to read the story and watch the report. This seems like a scam that could easily victimize our seniors.
As always, the best response is to hang up the phone when you receive a call like this. Share nothing! Provide no personal or financial information! The person best able to keep you safe from criminal callers is you.
Added September 24, 2013
One of Tennessee's own SHIP coordinators, Vickie Thompson, has helped the Federal Trade Commission as a witness in a case against an alleged prescription drug discount scam operating out of Wisconsin (but targeting seniors nationwide, including Tennessee residents). Charges have been filed, and a federal judge has ordered an end to the scheme and the freeze of all related assets.
Read more at "FTC Cracks Down on Bogus Medical Discount Scam Targeting Seniors" and watch a news report out of Memphis.
Great work, Vickie!
Added September 17, 2013
This is yet another attempt made on one of our own staff members, although it turns out the call is one documented elsewhere online. The number begins 973-273-XXXX, which is apparently out of New Jersey, although the number could change, especially as word gets around. Regardless, the caller may be introduced as a representative of "GE Security Systems," or something similar. That should raise a red flag.
While there is a GE Security division of General Electric, it does not sell to individuals, does not telemarket, does not go door to door. Anyone could claim to be selling GE Security systems, but they would not be affiliated with GE. (You could buy a couple dozen cans of Pepsi and sell the cans door to door, but that would not make you a Pepsi employee, right?)
In this specific case, the caller suggests that a $1500 security system can be had for "free" with a $40/month monitoring fee and a 36-month contract. With very little effort, legitimate businesses selling the same GE systems can be found offering monitoring for as little as $19/month. The other difference, of course, is that those businesses do not call you; they wait for you to call them.
The Federal Trade Commission provides good information on avoiding home security system scams. Be suspicious of aggressive sales agents. Be wary when contacted by strangers over the phone looking to sign you to a contract for a service you did not request. Never give personally identifying information or financial information to someone you do not know. And remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Very little is "free" in life. If you want a home security system, do your research, choose a company with a good reputation, and call them yourself.
If you receive the call described here, hang up.
Added September 9, 2013
From News Channel 5: "Smyrna police want to warn residents about two new scams targeting senior citizens.
"The first comes in the form of a letter that looks like it comes from Publisher's Clearing House. The letter states the recipient has won $1.5 million.
"Police also said to be on alert for a scam involving a phone call selling "green dot" money cards in order to get a cash prize.
"Smyrna Police Chief Kevin Arnold said one man lost $10,000 in of these scams. His advice: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is, so be cautious.
"Anyone who thinks they may have been targeted by scammers should call Smyrna Police at 615-459-6644."
Added September 6, 2013
One of our own staff members has reported receiving a red flag call, apparently originating from Buffalo, New York. The caller was claiming to offer $3000 worth of groceries through a new government program for seniors. All our staff member had to do was provide "a little information." The information she gave them was that, "There are no free groceries programs for seniors sponsored by the government." She then hung up.
Remember: If a stranger calls with an offer you do not recognize or that sounds too good to be true, your best response is to end the call.
Added September 5, 2013
The Council on Aging of Greater Nashville has sent out a reminder of the following scam:
"This scam begins when the senior receives a phone call from 'Express Couriers' asking if the senior is going to be home, as there is a package for the senior and it will be delivered in one hour. Adding credibility, the courier arrives in an hour in a uniform with a basket of flowers and wine. Attached is a note indicating that a $3.50 fee must be collected as proof that he/she has actually delivered the package to an adult (since alcohol is involved) and not just left on a doorstep. The courier then states that the company requires the fee be paid with a credit/debit card on a mobile card machine. If using debit, the senior is also required to enter his PIN or security number.
"By the next week, several thousand dollars are withdrawn from the senior’s account at various ATM machines or charged to the credit card. The information collected on the mobile device allowed the scammer to create a 'dummy' card."
This scam is several years old, and the original perpetrator committed the crime outside the state of Tennessee and was arrested and charged. The risk now is that others will adopt the same scam closer to home, perhaps under a different name or possibly changing the details. The important thing to remember is to be wary of sharing your credit/debit information with anyone you may have a reason to doubt. When in doubt, turn the person away.
Added August 1, 2013
Putnam County residents have reported to police that, in addition to the medical alert device phone scam, someone is now calling potential victims about fictional prizes and contests. One man was supposedly a Publisher's Clearing House winner, but he knew he had not entered and questioned how he could have won. The caller became abusive and vulgar when a family member intervened.
Remember, in cases like this there is nothing wrong or impolite about hanging up. If in doubt about the legitimacy of a call, just end it. If a caller persists, notify the phone company and the police.
Added July 24, 2013
The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security is warning of yet another phone scame, this time involving driver's license renewals and a caller requesting the potential victim's Social Security number.
Government offices will not contact you this way—will not call and ask for something like your Social Security number. The best rule of thumb is that if you do not make the call and know with whom you are speaking, you do not provide personally identifying information when asked. You hang up and report the call to the police.
Added July 19, 2013
CBS News briefly discussed with Consumer Reports senior editor Mandy Walker the risks presented by home, mortgage, and investment scams. The report states that 5 million older Americans fall victim each year to such scams, with losses to Americans over age 60 totalling $3 billion.
Added July 19, 2013
As reported by Don Dare for ABC News Channel 6 out of Knoxville, an attempt was made over the phone to con a Rockwood couple out of roughly $700. A man claiming to be a Dish Network representative, and one who had knowledge of the couple's account and payment information, made an offer that claimed six months of free service and a free movie channel would follow if the customers paid six months in advance. They knew better and did not give the man any payment or personal information. They also verified with Dish Network that the offer was not legitimate.
Remember, you cannot always trust caller ID. If you are suspicious of a caller, there is nothing wrong with hanging up. A legitimate offer can be verified by calling a number on a document you trust, like a billing statement from the company with which you have an account.
Added July 19, 2013
Another telephone scam is targeting seniors in multiple states. A member of our staff has now received one of these calls. DO NOT provide sensitive personal information to a stranger contacting you by phone. Nashville News Channel 5 is reporting this month (July 2013) that the Better Business Bureau has received numerous complaints about this scam, which involves the claim that someone the victim knows, possibly a doctor or family member, has arranged a "free" medical alert system. The scammer then requests bank and credit card information. If you receive a call like this, say nothing and hang up!
Added July 16, 2013
Recent reports from Medicare beneficiaries in the Southwest portion of the state indicate that someone is attempting a telephone scam, masquerading as a Medicare employee and seeking to acquire a person's Medicare card number. That number is also the person's Social Security number! (Medicare is one of the few agencies still using a person's Social Security number as an account number.) However, while Medicare does contact patients by mail, they will never call about account information. That type of call should trigger only one response: Hang up immediately!
A more detailed description of the scam may help protect you from becoming a victim. Remember, always be cautious about the personal information you share, especially in response to a request by someone who calls or emails you. If you do not make the call yourself, you cannot be sure of the identity of the person communicating with you. Caller IDs can even be faked! And email should never contain valuable personally identifying information, such as a social security, credit card, or banking number; there is no good reason to ever include any of those in an email message.
Tennessee SHIP partners with Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP) to assist with Medicare fraud and abuse. You can contact a SHIP representative at 1-877-801-0044.
Added June 14, 2013