Archive for February, 2019

Scams and Tech, Part 1: The En Masse Scams

Thursday, February 21st, 2019

By Mason Crane-Bolton

 Are you safe from scams? | photo via pexels.com

We know about tech. We know about scams—scams where older adults are often the target. But what do we know about how tech and scams overlap?

Wherever you live and however tech-savvy you consider yourself, it’s more than likely you encounter scams on an almost daily basis. Many of these scams may sound familiar: barely-legal businesses send flyers to your home insinuating to be affiliated with state or local agencies, or that urgent repairs need to be done to your residence; door-to-door or supermarket “magazine subscription sellers” try to get cash for magazines that will never come; a stranger who haunts a local business and always needs money for gas, etc. This isn’t a reason to give up on people or to believe that everyone you meet is out to do you wrong, but it is a reason to educate yourself and become “scam-savvy.” And where being scam-savvy may be more important than ever is in the use of those pervasive, everyday tools: our tech.

Why are there so many tech-based scams? Technology provides a quick and simple way for scammers to attempt scams on, literally, millions of people simultaneously at little to no cost. Scammers can send you emails, phone calls, and texts from anywhere in the world at any time. They can attach malware or spyware, infect your computer, get your information and your money. While there are some basic tools you can use to protect yourself from the uninvited scammers (antivirus programs for anything that connects to the internet—this includes not just computers, but smart phones, tablets, etc.) the most basic tools are free and always available: arming yourself with information, vigilance, and skepticism.

The tactics of most scammers are basic and easy to see through—so why do we fall for them? It’s not because we’re stupid or naïve—it’s because scammers also prey on our basic emotions: fear and love. The tactics of most scammers are to threaten either ourselves or someone we love.

Now, does this mean you can expect to get action movie-style emails in your inbox or texts to your phone? “Give me the last four digits of your Social Security Number or Fido gets it”? No, I don’t think that’s something you need to worry about. But what may happen is something like a call from the “IRS”—“We have recently opened a claim against you. Your bank accounts and benefits will be frozen unless we can confirm your Social Security Number,”—or from a “friend” of a loved one—“Hi, I’m a friend of your grandson and he just got arrested. He can’t make the call, but asked me to call you. Can you send a wire transfer for bail money?” Or you could get a seemingly legitimate email that appear to be from a well-known business, like Apple or Amazon.com, that claims your account has been locked, you’ve won a gift card, or someone has racked up huge charges to your account. (There are several other scams out there; the scams listed above are only a few examples of some of the currently common scam scenarios.) So, if and when you get these messages, what can you do?

First, don’t immediately react to your impulse of fear for yourself or a loved one. Don’t click on any links in an email, don’t rush off to send a wire transfer, and don’t give away any personal information, including your Social Security Number. Instead, stop, think, and confirm. Immediately hang up on any suspicious calls. If you have a concern about any claims against you or a freeze of your Social Security benefits, hang up and call the IRS (1-800-829-1040) or Social Security Administration (1-800-772-1213 or TTY  1-800-325-0778) directly. Even if the number that called you appears to be coming from a legitimate government agency, don’t trust it (scammers can disguise their phone numbers easily) and call the agency directly. If you receive a call that a friend or relative has been arrested or is in the hospital and needs money call that person first to check out the story (some individuals have reported tricking the would-be scammer by giving a false name for the loved one, birthday, etc. to verify the scam is a scam, but we recommend hanging up immediately to spend as little time talking to the scammer as possible). And if you receive an email from a business, go directly to that business’s website and verify whether there is any problem with your account (or call customer service). Never give any financial information or personal information in any of these scenarios where you did not initiate contact.

You can report fraud to the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov/complaint. To report Social Security scams, call the Office of the Inspector General at ?1-800-269-0271 or report online at  https://oig.ssa.gov/report.

Scams like these are usually quick and dirty and easier to see through. The scammers aren’t too likely to hound you constantly—when you don’t fall for the scam, they’ll just move onto the next person so they can make a buck. And usually (but now always) this means they’re a little easier to spot and avoid. The IRS and SSA won’t send you robo-calls or leave automatic voicemails, your grandchild or friend isn’t likely to have a third party call you while they’re in jail, and you’re probably not the winner (but we can dream) of a $1,000.00 Amazon gift card. But what other common scams are out there?

Check back on March 7th for part 2 of our tech-scam series: One of the other most common scams aimed at older adults? “Sweetheart” scams.


Mason Crane-Bolton is Communications Manager for the New Jersey Foundation for Aging. His writing has appeared in EpiphanyUU WorldTo Wake/To Rise, and others. 

Important Updates to Medicare: The New Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period

Thursday, February 7th, 2019

By Guest Blogger Charles Clarkson, Project Director, Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey

Medicare Advantage Disenrollment Period Ending.

Beneficiaries in a Medicare Advantage plan previously had a Disenrollment Period from January 1 – February 14 every year. This disenrollment period ended on December 31, 2018. It has been replaced with a new Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period. This new period was effective starting January 1, 2019.

The old Medicare Advantage Disenrollment Period had permitted beneficiaries to drop their Medicare Advantage plan and return to Original Medicare (Part A and Part B). It also allowed a beneficiary to sign up for a stand-alone Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan.

The New Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period

Starting January 1, 2019, a new Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period will run from January 1 – March 31 every year. If you are already enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, you will have a one-time opportunity to:

  • Switch to a different Medicare Advantage plan.
  • Drop your Medicare Advantage plan and return to Original Medicare, Part A and Part B.
  • Sign up for a stand-alone Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan (if you return to Original Medicare). Most Medicare Advantage plans include prescription drug coverage already. Usually you cannot enroll in a stand-alone Medicare Prescription Drug plan if you already have a Medicare Advantage plan.

Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment: why would I want to switch to a different Medicare Advantage plan?

  • Medicare Advantage plans can change every year. Premiums, co-pays and deductibles may change and a beneficiary may find and switch to a plan more suited to his/her needs.
  • If a beneficiary is not happy with the Medicare Advantage plan’s network (doctors and hospitals who participate in the plan) or a beneficiary discovers that their doctor has dropped out of the plan’s network and no longer accepts the plan, he/she may want to switch to a plan that their doctor participates in.
  • Medicare Advantage plans are required to provide beneficiaries with similar coverage as Original Medicare. Many of them also include coverage beyond Original Medicare (Part A and Part B). For example, most plans include prescription drug coverage, and some include routine vision services, some dental and hearing services or other benefits such as Silver Sneakers program. With new changes in Medicare, Medicare Advantage plans may soon offer other services such as adult day care services, home and bathroom safety devices, transportation and home meals. Of course a beneficiary should review the plan documents carefully to understand these services and their limitations.
  • These extra benefits (beyond Part A and Part B) can change year to year. For example, suppose you take certain medications and you have a Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug plan. Your plan might cover your prescriptions. But sometimes a plan changes its formulary (list of covered medications). If your drugs are no longer being covered, you should seriously consider changing Medicare Advantage plans.
  • Medicare Advantage plans may change premiums, deductible and co-pays every year. You might even be able to find a Medicare Advantage plan with a zero premium that was not available in 2018.
  • Some Medicare Advantage plans can provide better service than others and can be rated higher or lower than other plans. Medicare has a star rating system that rates Medicare Advantage plans from 1 to 5 stars. Many beneficiaries may feel uncomfortable staying in a lower rated plan.

 

Every fall, your plan will send you an Annual Notice of Change. Pay attention to this, because it lists any changes to your benefits or plan rules. A plan formulary may change at any time. You will receive notice from your plan when necessary.


Charles Clarkson, Esq. is the Project Director for Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey.

 

 

The Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey (SMP) is a federally funded program of the Administration for Community Living. The grant for this program has been awarded to the Jewish Family Services of Middlesex County, 32 Ford Avenue, Milltown, New Jersey 08850, telephone number 732-777-1940. Its mission is to assist Medicare beneficiaries in fighting health care fraud, waste and abuse. SMP also seeks to educate Medicare beneficiaries about Medicare so they will not become victims of fraud, waste and abuse.