Lori Jennings-Harris with panelists (l to r) Carl Hagins, Rebecca Kinney, Renee Cohen and Derick Rill
Education is the key to preventing fraud against seniors. That was the intent of a seminar Friday at the Charlotte Hall Senior Center sponsored by the St. Mary’s County TRIAD/SALT Council and the offices of aging of the three Southern Maryland counties. In opening remarks Maryland Department of Aging Secretary Gloria Lawlah picked up on the theme: “We need to understand what we are seeing when we look at something and understand what we are hearing when we hear something.”
About 150 people attended the seminar which featured speakers on a panel from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Administration on Aging as well as a representative from U.S. Senator Benjamin, who was unable to attend. Lawlah was introduced by Director of the St. Mary’s County Department of Aging and Human Services Lori Jennings-Harris. The panel was introduced by Beth Fiske of the Charles County Department of Community Services, Aging and Senior Programs Division.
Derick Rill of FTC entertained the audience with a series of “raps” to help them remember how to handle potential fraud, including “When in doubt, check it out,” “If you don’t initiate, you should investigate,” and “If you are paying money up front, you might as well punt.”
Rill said with the economy the way it is scammers are prospering. He said a basic rule of thumb, which he learned during his time as a journalist, “Get two trusted sources” for every situation. Trusted sources include experts in the field with no money at stake in the issue.
Rill suggested attendees use the Officer of Consumer Protection of the Maryland Attorney General’s Office for fraud complaints, in addition to his own agency. The FTC has a number of specific web sites to deal with various fraud situations which can be accessed through the main web site www.ftc.gov or by calling 1-877-TFC-HELP.
Carl Hagins, an agent in the Baltimore field office of the U.S. Secret Service, said most people know about the protection duties of his agency but don’t also know they are charged with “safeguarding the nation’s financial infrastructure.” That responsibility includes issues with banks, credit cards companies, ATMs, denial of services, malware and point of sale fraud.
Hagins talked about the six common money scams and how to avoid them:
·Phishing, or sending an e-mail to try to get the recipient to send financial account numbers or log on to a website. Response: Do not respond to any e-mail that asks you to “Click here to log on.”
·Cashier’s Check Fraud, in which the scammer poses as a buyer of an item via a classified ad or online auction, and offers to pay with a cashier’s check or wire transfer which never arrives or proves counterfeit. Response: Deal in cash, use a third party escrow service or transfer on a reputable online auction site such as eBay.
·Debt elimination scams, in which the claim is made that the individual can pay an upfront fee to get out of repaying debt. Response: Do homework to find a reputable debt settlement firm and check with lender or lawyer to see if the program is legitimate.
·Mortgage rescue scams, in which people facing the loss or their home are preyed upon by scammers. Response: Contact your lender first to try to work things out and use available federal programs such as Making Home Affordable ( www.makinghomeaffordable.com
·Work at home/home-based business scams, in which ads claim you can make thousands of dollars by working at home. Response: Ask for referrals and research the company carefully to ensure it is genuine.
·419 scams, Nigerian scams, advance-fee fraud scams. Just about everyone has gotten such an e-mail from desperate-sounding individuals asking for help in transferring money. Hagins told of an elderly woman who got a call from a person posing as her grandson saying he was in jail in Canada and needed bail money. Response: Immediately delete the e-mail and contact the U.S. Secret Service Financial Crimes Division
Rebecca Kinney of the Senior Medicare Patrol program of the U.S. Administration on Aging said that Medicare fraud is causing taxpayers billions of dollars every year. She urged everyone to keep track of the medical services they receive by writing the information in a journal and then comparing it to the bills received, even though the person isn’t responsible for paying.
The Senior Medicare Patrol has volunteer opportunities in the tri-county area for persons interested in putting a dent in the fraud problem. Anyone interested can contact their local Office on Aging office. More than 5,000 volunteers nationwide have been trained so far.
Sen. Cardin (D) was scheduled to appear at the seminar but duties in DC kept him away at the last moment. Renee Cohen, who has worked for him for 30 years and specializes in issues relating to senior citizens and health care, said emergency room care for the uninsured is costing those with insurance $1,100 per person yearly. She touted the Affordable Care Act as a mechanism to reduce those costs by giving those without coverage access to private insurance, putting measures in place to deescalate the rising costs, and placing the emphasis on primary care. She said specialty care is much more expensive and driving up health care costs.
Lawlah in her opening remarks challenged the attendees: “We have to readjust the way we live and monitor the things around us,” she said.
After lunch attendees were entertained with a skit on how to avoid telephone fraud by a trio of senior entertainers called Northern Stars.