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Fake Medicare calls use back, knee braces as bait

No matter how bad your back might be, don’t fall for this Medicare-related scam.

Several callers from Albuquerque say they’ve been hit with insistent calls from someone claiming to be with Medicare who is offering a special deal on a free back brace. In some cases, the deal is for a free knee brace.

An Albuquerque woman says her 85-year-old mother picked up one such call from someone who had a heavy accent and started asking her medical questions before offering a brace.

The elderly woman told the caller she needed to talk to her doctor first, but the daughter intervened and warned that it was a scam. Since then, though, the calls have been continuous, sometimes “minute after minute,” the daughter said.

The Better Business Bureau warned of these calls recently, saying the goal is to trick you into providing personal information such as a Social Security number as a way to confirm your identity.

The BBB is also warning of a proliferation of government fraud calls in which scammers try to intimidate by claiming there’s a problem with Medicare or Social Security benefits. They say if you don’t provide personal information, you’re in danger of losing your benefits.

Here’s advice from the BBB:

◊ Know that government agencies generally don’t call consumers unsolicited. Instead, they send letters. If you receive a particularly convincing call from someone and you want to double check, hang up and call the toll-free Social Security number at 1-800-772-1213. If the call is Medicare-related, call 1-800-MEDICARE to verify any issues.

◊ If you receive a call from a number you haven’t saved to your contacts, or if your caller ID says “unknown,” don’t pick up the phone. Also, be aware that scammers can dupe caller ID and mask their true phone number.

◊ If you do answer a call from an unsolicited caller and are greeted by a robocall or a person who claims to be with a government agency, just hang up. Don’t press any buttons, don’t engage in conversation and don’t ask to be removed from the calling list.

◊ ◊ ◊

Another chapter in the ongoing saga of “If it’s too good to be true, it’s too good to be true.”

Consumers nationwide fell for a money-making scheme in which they were told that if they paid an upfront fee of around $100, they could earn $58,500 a year – and only have to work five hours a week, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Such a deal. But not really, because it was bogus.

The FTC, in a settlement with the operators, won a $10.9 million judgment for monetary relief. The settlement also bans the defendants for life from marketing any business opportunity or business coaching service.

The bogus programs were called Excel Cash Flow, Online Cash Commission and the Cash From Home Program. Once the operators had lured people, they pitched “pricey” business coaching packages, also with misleading money-making claims, the FTC said.

“Be very skeptical of promises that you’ll make a lot of money by working from home,” said Andrew Smith, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “In this case and many others, we see companies that are just out to take your money, not help you make it.”

The agency suggests these steps to protect yourself:

◊ Be wary of upsells. Many scammers first hook consumers with a lower-priced program and then unleash high-pressure tactics to sell expensive services. “Our advice is to resist the pitch,” the FTC said. “If you didn’t achieve the results you wanted initially, don’t give them any more money.”

◊ Avoid coaching online and instead keep it local. The Small Business Administration has helpful resources, including volunteer small business mentors affiliated with the SBA’s SCORE program.

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. To report a scam to law enforcement, contact the New Mexico Consumer Protection Division toll-free at 1-844-255-9210.

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