Randy Meier

RANDY MEIER

Seniors vs. Crime Columnist

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), one of the chief consumer protection agencies in the United States, released the 2018 report on the top frauds of the last year. 

This is kind of a view from 30,000 feet on what happened last year in the world of scams. I think it’s helpful in understanding the report to know from where the information came

The FTC collects reports of fraud directly from the public. You can go online to ftc.gov and file a complaint with them. Additionally, the FTC collects consumer complaint data from many other state, U.S. military, and federal agencies such as the FBI. Almost all state attorneys generally contribute to the FTC database, as well as private institutions including Better Business Bureau and AARP Fraud Watch.

Local law enforcement also reports, including us at Seniors vs. Crime. And financial services, such as Western Union also contribute complaints. 

The upshot is, this report pulls in a lot of information from many places, all relating to fraud and scams. All this is pretty much self-reported, so we need to realize our data only reflect what people were willing to tell. If someone got scammed, and never reported it, that scam doesn’t count in this report, and that’s a limitation. 

So, what does the report tell us? 

Here’s some highlights as I see them:

• Overall reports of fraud peaked in 2015, dropped in 2016 and 2017, and in 2018 ticked up again, to 2.99 million. That’s about 2.7 percent lower than 2015.

• The three most commonly reported scams were imposter scams (18 percent of the total), debt collector scams (16 percent of the total), and identity thefts (15 percent of the total). Imposter scams include everything from the phony IRS and Social Security calls, to the phony crooks hanging out on Facebook and dating websites, prospecting for romance scam victims

• The telephone is still, by far, the top method used by scammers to gain access to their victims. Sixty-nine percent of those reporting scams said the contact came through telephones. Websites and email counted for 12 percent and 10 percent, respectively. However, only 8 percent of people contacted by phone lost money, as opposed to 41 percent contacted through websites. So, it seems we are better at detecting scams pitched at us over the phone than through the internet.

• Wire transfers line Western Union, Moneygram, and Walmart2Walmart are still the scammers’ preferred method of moving money in scams scooping up the great majority of losses reported. This surprised me, since I hear so much about gift cards in fraud. Victims wired away over five times as much money as they lost through buying cards like Google Play, Amazon, or iTunes. But the use of these cards in scams almost doubled from 2017 to 2018, so the trend is clear.

• Florida still ranks number one in the number of scams reported per 100,000 people. And Iowa? In this case, being number 48 out of 50 states is a good thing. How about Illinois? Right about in the middle at number 27. 

• Young people who get scammed are far more likely to report it — and to lose less money in a given scam — while the elderly are much less likely to report any losses, and yet they lose a lot more money in each scam. What do I mean by that? Those 20-29 years old lost an average of $400. Those over 80 lost an average of $1,700. The 20-year-olds were three times more likely to report than the 80-year-olds.

That’s the view across the country, from a very high vantage point. 

LOCAL SCAM TRENDS 

A great many of you are reporting receiving robo-calls from the Social Security Administration. The calls warn of your number getting suspended, or investigated, or both, unless you return a call. 

If you do return the call, you’ll reach someone who recites some story about your number associated with drug-running in Texas, and they need to verify your number to clear things up. 

In one day last week, I received eight calls on this particular scam. And it is a scam. You don’t need to return these calls. Social Security will not call you about an issue. 

Something similar is going on with Medicare. Since 2019 started, I’ve noted a big increase in the number of calls people report, telling me someone called them from Medicare. These are not robo-calls. A live person calls and uses a variety of techniques to coax victims into giving up their Medicare number. 

Troubling to me, these calls seem to work about a third of the time. The callers are able to keep their victims on the line long enough to ease suspicion. One of the techniques they use is to offer free knee or back braces, in exchange for the Medicare number.

A Clinton woman, and I will call her Junie, told me a story about her Medicare number this week. Quite unexpectedly, Junie received a parcel delivered by UPS in mid-January. In the parcel, Junie found a back brace from PRV Medical Supply of Vista, California. A couple of weeks later, Junie received a benefits notice from her Medicare supplement insurance. The notice showed someone billed the insurance and Medicare almost $2,000 for the device. Junie showed me the brace, which consisted of some mesh fabric and Velcro straps. It’s a mystery to Junie how anyone charged this to her Medicare number. She did the right thing after reviewing her benefits notice and seeing this unauthorized charge. She contacted her insurance company and Medicare and reported the fraud. 

The lesson from Junie’s story, and these Medicare calls in general is this: Medicare does not call you to “verify” or confirm your number, or offer you a laminated new card. And anyone offering anything free from Medicare is a scammer. Hang up immediately. 

CONTACT

SENIORS VS. CRIME

 Let me know about scams, fraud, or other crookedness you run across. Most of what I learn, I learn from you. Contact me at Seniors vs. Crime, Clinton County Sheriff’s Office, 563-242-9211 extension 4433, or email me at randymeier@gapa911.us