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AARP holds program to warn elderly against scams

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The AARP Foundation held its annual program in Charleston on Thursday about widespread frauds that often target and victimize elderly Americans, which include warnings about phony "Obamacare cards" and fake free offers.

Janet Clarke, from West Virginia ElderWatch, said at the Embassy Suites in Charleston that recent scams include getting telephone calls from people posing as a relative in jail in some foreign country who desperately needs money to get out.

"Other people have been asked if they have their Obamacare cards. But those cards don't even exist. It is just an attempt to get personal information from you," Clarke said.

Kim Riddle, from the West Virginia Senior Medical Patrol, outlined the numerous scams to "bill for services, equipment and supplies that are never provided."

Some people get telephone calls telling them that their Medicare cards have expired.

"Then they charge you $299 for a new Medicare card," Riddle said. "But your Medicare card never expires."

Riddle has seen a wide variety of false medical bills. One 72-year-old woman was tested for pregnancy.

Riddle warned seniors to be very wary of any "free offers" for medical equipment over the telephone.

"When someone calls you with a 'free offer,' it is not a free offer. Then to cancel those services, you can't do it over the phone. You have to mail in written documents."

Riddle urged people to always protect their identities.

"Do not carry your Medicare card with you all the time. And shred papers and bills."

Riddle also pointed out, "Medicare doesn't call or visit you to sell you anything. They don't sell anything." More information about Medicare is available at www.MyMedicare.gov.

Marcia Meeks, from the West Virginia State Health Insurance Assistance Program, or SHIP, spoke about Medicare open enrollment.

Enrollment for supplementary programs, such as programs helping pay for pharmaceuticals, can be opened each year between October 15 and December 7. People can register for new plans or change plans during this period of time.

The SHIP program has offices on the third floor of the Charleston Town Center Mall. It can also be reached at 1-877-987-4463 or at www.wvship.org.

"There were 353,000 receiving Medicare benefits in 2008, when I began working for the program. Today, 404,000 people in West Virginia have Medicare.

"They are not only people who are over 65. A lot of people receive Social Security Disability benefits before they are 65.

Joyce Sellers, a banker at WesBanco, also spoke at Thursday's conference.

Sellers offered several pieces of quick advice, including: "Always guard your debit card. Sign the back of your cards. Never write your PIN [personal identification number] on any debit card."

Sellers urged people who use debit and credit cards to routinely check their accounts to make sure no one is stealing money from them.

She also urged people to create unusual PINs.

"At least 30 percent of us have PIN numbers that can be figured out easily. Don't use PIN numbers like 1111, 1234, or your birth year or graduation year."

The AARP Foundation also passed out a pamphlet from the Federal Trade Commission urging consumers to do several things to avoid fraud:

* "Wiring money is like sending cash: once it's gone, you can't get it back."

* "Don't send money to someone you don't know."

* "Don't respond to messages that ask for your personal or financial information, whether the message comes as an e-mail, a phone call, a text message or an ad."

* "Don't play a foreign lottery," even if it claims you have already won money. "You'll be asked to pay 'taxes,' 'fees,' or 'customs duties' to collect your prize. If you send money, you won't get it back."

* "In the wake of a natural disaster or another crisis, give to established charities rather than one that seems to have sprung up overnight." More information from the Federal Trade Commission is available at: www.ftc.gov/charityfraud.

West Virginia Senior Medical Patrol can be reached at 1-800-799-4638, a toll-free number, or at wvsmp@aarp.org. Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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