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Be Vigilant

I regret there will never be a dearth of material on scams. This morning’s news featured a real estate scam that robbed a single mother of the money she had saved for her first house. After wiring her down payment money to a crook claiming to be the seller’s bank, she lost it all. She is resigned to living with her young children in her parents’ basement for the foreseeable future.

The consequence of all your personal data being available online is that you have to be vigilant. If an email looks suspect in any way, find the party’s phone and email by an independent internet search and contact them yourself.

Data is valuable

Money isn’t the only thing fraudsters are after. Data— your personal information— is extremely valuable, representing the potential for future scams. One fraud making the rounds recently is a genetic testing scam. If you fall for this, through a telemarketing call, health fair, or knock on the door, your first bad news will be discovering that the “free” genetic test you took is not free. Medicare does not pay for any testing which is not medically necessary. You’ll be responsible for the cost, which could run into thousands of dollars.

The ultimate goal of the scammers is more devious: your Medicare number. With your identification they can steal your identity, causing you more headaches, time, and money, as well as cheating the federal government.

There are ways to protect yourself against real estate, Medicare, and any frauds threatening to take away your marbles.

Protecting your Medicare and Social Security numbers, as well as other personal information, is not simple. Trusted doctors and your own financial creditors and debtors should be the only ones who have access, and this should be strictly limited. Don’t be afraid to politely refuse when people request your private information in any other context.

Use safety checks

Take full advantage of the safety checks offered by your legitimate services. The USPS, your phone server, and your financial institutions all have developed ways to ensure you know with whom you’re dealing.

The post office, for example, has a new free service called Informed Delivery. They can send you a daily email containing digital scans of the mail and packages you can expect in the next day or two. Then you’ll know if you’re missing something.

Taking steps to block robocalls will reduce the chances you’ll be suckered into a scam. You can sign up for the federal Do Not Call Registry (888-382-1222). Call from the phone number you want to be registered. Contact your phone service providers: many have programs aimed at reducing telemarketing calls. You can also find private robocall blocking services to help with your mobile phone. Before you choose a third-party service, however, be sure you check their reviews on the internet (not on their website) to assure yourself they are legit.

Speaking of legit, if you receive a genetic testing kit in the mail, return it unopened unless your doctor ordered it. If you suspect Medicare fraud, call 1-800-MEDICARE. Medicare wants to shut these down as quickly as they pop up, to protect you and all of our tax dollars.

You may not feel like your financial institutions always have your back, but they have a vested interest in protecting your privacy. A visit to your bank branch or website will show you just how many protections and tips are available for your use.

One worthwhile bank service alerts (by email, text or automated phone call) whenever your debit or credit card has been used. You can set different trigger amounts for various credit cards if you don’t want to be notified for small dollar purchases.

Two-step authentication is another good way to keep robbers one more step removed from your accounts. It takes a few seconds longer to access your accounts but adds a layer of security.

Password managers keep you protected

Finally, consider signing up for a password manager. This type of software creates complex passwords for each of your needs and stores them securely. You only need to remember one password, which then supplies the appropriate password for each site. This type of third-party password service generally is low cost and includes fraud alerts and other security features.

I haven’t yet signed up for a password manager. I’m a bit nervous about giving away my password power. What would happen if the manager were hacked? Nevertheless, my son uses one and believes it’s a safe option.

A recent book praised by a former police commissioner is Scam Me If You Can by Frank Abagnale. You may consider some of his suggestions a pain and a bother. But so are brushing your teeth, paying your bills, and many other tasks you complete more or less without complaint daily. If simple strategies can help us outsmart scam artists, they can reduce our stress and help us keep our marbles.

Karen Telleen-Lawton helps seniors help themselves by providing bias-free financial advice. She is a Certified Financial Planner, the Principal of Decisive Path Fee-Only Financial Advisory in Santa Barbara, California (http://www.DecisivePath.com). You can reach her with your questions or comments at ktl@DecisivePath.com.

Fighting Back Against Scams

  • Protect your private information.
  • Sign up for Informed Delivery through the USPS.
  • Sign up for the federal
  • Do Not Call registry to block some robocalls.
  • Return unopened any unsolicited genetic testing kit you receive.
  • If you suspect Medicare fraud, call 1-800-Medicare.
  • Use two-party verification and alerts for your financial accounts.
  • Consider a password manager subscription.

Learn More

Hear about scams to be aware of during, “Senior Scams And How To Protect Yourself,” special seminar at Genesis Village presented by The Laurels of Toledo and elder law attorney Phillip Wylkan. Refreshments provided.

1:30-2:30pm. Tuesday, November 19
The Genesis Room at Genesis Village
2429 S. Reynolds Rd.
419-720-1286 | genesisvillage.org

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