Q How can I avoid those scams I hear about in the news, such as opening accounts in my name?
A That’s a great question any time of year, but even more so in December, which is the end of the fiscal year for most people. It’s a great time to check investments, request your credit report, and evaluate finances for next year. Call your bank to ask what accounts exist with your name and Social Security Number. Check your credit report for accounts you don’t recognize (see below).
Some common scams and how to avoid them:
- Buying gold: Very aggressive advertising campaigns target retirement-aged people who fear market losses, and are looking for the security of gold bullion. The scam involves vendors who try to sell you gold coins at huge markups. According to AARP.org’s money page, “a 2014 report from the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging estimated that
more than 10,000 Americans have been victimized by precious metals cons, with losses of around $300 million.”
- IRS phone fraud was widely publicized last month when a chain of India-based call centers was found threatening U.S. taxpayers with fines and prison if they didn’t make a payment with their credit card by phone. REMEMBER: The IRS never calls. They send a letter. ALWAYS.
- Medicare fraud occurs when a provider (doctor, therapist, medical equipment company) bills Medicare for more than they delivered. For example, a physical therapist bills for a 30-minute session, when only 15 minutes of therapy were provided. Check your Explanation of Benefits to see what was billed, and compare that to your records. Report Medicare fraud at: 1-800-HHS TIPS.
- Identity theft can happen to anyone. Scammers find personal information in your mail or online, and create accounts in your name or Social Security Number without your knowledge. Check your credit report annually for free at www.annualcreditreport.com. Contest any discrepancies. Tell collection agencies that you deny the account.
- Wi-Fi and internet cyber security: Beware of the free Wi-Fi at the mall or coffee shop. Free Wi-fi often means low security, which means that cyber thieves can easily hack into your device while you are using it. Don’t use free Wi-Fi to make online purchases, check bank accounts, or send personal information.
Make fiscal security a goal in 2017 and protect yourself.