A Consumer Action News Alert • August 2022
  Just testing  

A major Maryland healthcare system recently warned patients about phone calls asking recipients to schedule tests "ordered by your provider." The calls are a ruse to gather personal information, as the callers ask for you to "provide or confirm" details such as your name, cell phone number, doctor's name, Social Security number, insurance information and home address. While this warning came from the University of Maryland Medical System, similar pretexts are occurring elsewhere, like this fraudulent email that made the rounds at the University of California at Berkeley. The warning notes that callers can be very creative in gaining as much information they can, quickly. They even spoof company names to appear as if they're calling from a lab or with a lab order from your doctor's office. Hang up. Do not provide or confirm any information the callers ask for.

  Insuring against fraud  

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) notes that "healthcare fraud is not a victimless crime. It affects everyone--individuals and businesses alike--and causes tens of billions of dollars in losses each year. It can raise health insurance premiums, expose you to unnecessary medical procedures and increase taxes." The U.S. Attorney's Office continues to charge healthcare scammers on a regular basis, like this man in Georgia and these men in New Jersey. You can do your part to stop healthcare fraud by protecting your health insurance documents. Treat your ID cards like you would your bank card, and shred paperwork that contains details about your coverage. (If you're asked to provide your health insurance information for a "free" service, the service is probably not free and could result in fraudulent charges to your insurer.) The FBI advises you to check your health insurance statements (including Medicare statements) to make sure the dates, locations and services billed match what you actually received. Contact your health insurance provider if you see anything questionable.

  Yeah, sure  

A healthy skepticism. People spend billions of dollars a year on products and treatments in the hope of improving their health. Unfortunately, companies making dubious claims about their products and treatments are pocketing much of that money. Keep in mind that claims that sound too good to be true usually are. Why waste your money, or even your health? In the spring, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published a consumer warning that an unregulated hemp derivative, delta-8 THC, could have potential adverse health effects after it received reports about consumers who ended up in emergency rooms and hospitals after eating products that contain it. It says that even "historical use of cannabis cannot be relied upon in establishing a level of safety for these products in humans." Make sure to use reputable sources in researching supplements, health treatments and medical devices. Before buying or ingesting any supplements, search online for the product name along with the words "review," "complaint" or "scam" to learn from others' experiences. Find more tips at the Federal Trade Commission.

This sucks. Three large data brokers for years profited by selling so-called "sucker lists" to scammers who used them to reach and cheat elderly and vulnerable people, according to an eye-opening article on LawfareBlog. The piece details the prosecution of three large data brokers--Epsilon, Macromark and KBM Group--and how "these companies knew that they were partnering with scammers and continued to do so because they saw it as financially advantageous." Understandably, members of Congress have proposed laws to rein in the pretty much unregulated data broker industry, which trades in personal information about individuals gathered online and offline. But so far, none of the federal legislation has passed, although some states--notably Vermont and California--have begun to regulate the industry.


Reg E-asier. Money transfer platforms such as Zelle and Venmo allow people to send or receive money almost instantaneously--and most of the time, those payments are irreversible. This has made them very attractive as tools for scam artists. These companies are required by law to investigate and resolve unauthorized payments, but they say they are not required to refund consumers who authorized the payments. Trouble is, scammers are expert at "social engineering" victims, and they do so by convincing consumers that they are bank employees helping them resolve a fabricated fraudulent transaction. Following a wave of money transfer fraud, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is expected to urge banks more strongly to reimburse customers who have sent scammers money using Zelle and other money transfer services. (The CFPB last year clarified that Regulation E of the Electronic Fund Transfer Act protects victims of fraudulent money transfers, including people who are "fraudulently induced" into transferring the money themselves.) Predictably, the financial industry is pushing back at the news. Scott Talbott of the Electronic Transactions Association told the Wall Street Journal, "You run the risk of increasing what's called friendly fraud, where consumers could abuse the new liability rules. There's potential for abuse." As if scammers haven't already abused enough victims!

Shame on the 'blame game.' A new report from the AARP Fraud Watch Network and FINRA Investor Education Foundation says shifting how our society talks about victims of financial fraud could lead to much-needed changes in how we respond to such crimes. Often, feelings of shame contribute to victims' reluctance to report these crimes. According to the report, titled Blame and Shame in the Context of Financial Fraud, words such as "swindled" and "bilked" unintentionally put the focus on the fraud victims. Rather than saying a victim was "duped" or "fell for it"--as if the victim were to blame--the authors say the focus should be on stopping the criminal and the crime. What's driving the blame game? The report suggests it's the lack of universal legal standards for defining financial fraud; scarcity of resources for fraud prevention and victim services organizations; and the failure of federal and state agencies (including law enforcement and criminal justice), financial institutions and other stakeholders to coordinate efforts.

Lotta lottery scams. When the MegaMillions lottery reached $1 billion late last month, scammers took note, unleashing efforts to sell tickets through bogus "lookalike" websites and sending texts and phone calls saying you won the lottery. The goal of these scammers is to gather personal information or get you to pay "taxes" or "delivery fees" before you can claim "your winnings." Get a grip! Number one: You can't win if you didn't buy a ticket. Number two: You will never be asked to pay anything up front if you are a real state lottery winner. And, if you win a jackpot, you won't be notified by text or email...so don't click on any links in texts or emails. Even outside of last month's rare billion-plus jackpot, lottery scams might come your way. Get to know the signs and what to do if you already paid a scammer.

Sheared. Numerous Kentucky women who attempted to make appointments with a legitimate hair salon via social media were conned out of money when they prepaid for sessions using peer-to-peer payments, via apps like Cash App or Venmo. The case serves to illustrate how easy it is for fakers to entrap you on social media when you are looking to connect with local businesses. Bottom line: Never pay in advance for services. If someone claiming to be from a local business reaches out to you, do not respond. Instead, call the business directly. And be exceedingly careful about sending money via digital payment platforms--they are edging out wire transfers as the chosen method used by scammers to take your money.

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