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A too-early call tips recipient to a Medicare hustle

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Rebecca Rodriguez of Albuquerque knew the supposed government employee calling her at 7 a.m. was trying to perpetrate a scam, and she wasted no time in telling him so.

“You’re too early to be calling from the government,” she told him. “I know the government isn’t up this time of day.”

The 88-year-old woman has a point. It’s also true that the government won’t call – at any time of the day – to ask you to recite your Medicare number over the phone. In Rodriguez’s case, the caller said he just wanted to make sure the card was updated.

Expect more of these kinds of Medicare-related scams as the agency gets ready to send out new cards starting April 1. The new cards will no longer list Social Security numbers – a change ordered by Congress to protect people against identity theft.

The new cards will also no longer show gender or a signature. Instead, they will include a computer-generated “Medicare beneficiary identifier” made up of 11 numbers and letters. It will be used for billing, to verify eligibility for services and to check the status of a claim. Medicare members have until Dec. 31, 2019, to begin using the new ID. Both the new and current cards will be valid until then.

“These changes will make it considerably harder for criminals to steal your identity,” according to AARP.

In the meantime, though, scammers are trying to cash in by targeting the 58 million people slated to get the new cards, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Among the reported scams:

• You’re asked for your Social Security number and bank information in order to get the new card. This will never happen with the real Medicare agency.

• You’re asked to pay for your new card. Don’t do it. The new card is free.

• You’re told you’ll lose your Medicare benefits if you don’t provide money and personal information. Not true. The free card will be sent automatically, and there will be no associated change in your benefits.

•••

Make a note: Rex Tillerson is not going to contact you with a special offer for an ATM card worth $1.85 million.

In case you didn’t know, Tillerson is the secretary of state. Of the United States. Someone claiming to be him has been sending emails telling people they are owed the money, and that he knows this because the FBI and CIA told him.

To get the ATM card, the fake Tillerson says, you have to send in $320 along with some information about yourself, according to the the Federal Trade Commission.

“… it’s not the Secretary of State emailing, nobody owes you $1.85 million dollars (just guessing), and no government agency will ever tell you to pay a fee to collect funds owed to you,” the FTC says.

•••

The Better Business Bureau is warning that those quizzes that circulate on Facebook – everything from personality tests to trivia contest – can be a front for stealing private information.

“These quizzes may seem like harmless fun – and some are – but many of them are designed to gather personal information about you,” the BBB says.

A tip-off can be when a quiz requires that you grant a third-party access to your Facebook profile. For example, a pop-up might appear reading something like, “Allowing (whatever the quiz name is) access will let it pull your profile information, photos, your friends’ info, and other content that it requires to work.”

Complying can allow access to any data you share, which can include photos, workplace details and your location.

•••

A spot of good news happened last week when the feds went after an identity theft group whose motto was “In Fraud We Trust.”

The group, the Infraud Organization, was known as a “one-stop shop for cybercriminals” that sold stolen credit card information on the dark web, targeting more than 4.3 million credit cards, debit cards and bank accounts worldwide, U.S. prosecutors alleged.

Thirty-six people were indicted in connection with the international identity theft group.

Ellen Marks is assistant business editor at the Albuquerque Journal. Contact her at emarks@abqjournal.com or 505-823-3842 if you are aware of what sounds like a scam.

 

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