Beware a new wave of financial scams circulating by phone, mail, online

Hang up, shut it down or toss it out. That's the advice for consumers amid a new wave of financial scams circulating by phone, mail and online.

Some are seasonal, tied to what's in the news, like Obamacare. Others are perennials that seem to sprout up regularly.

Regardless of how they arrive, they're highly bothersome, if not potentially financially disastrous. Here are some we've been hearing about lately:

Four days in a row last month, the same early morning calls woke up Corin Gomes' 85-year-old mother. Each time, the caller asked her to "verify" personal information, including her name, age, address and bank account number, in order to receive a free medical I.D. card for seniors. The caller, claiming to be from Washington, D.C., said the new government-issued card would cover any medical expenses not covered by Medicare.

Recovering from a stroke, the Elk Grove, Calif., resident wasn't sure how to respond. That's when Gomes took charge of the 6 a.m. calls, which she quickly determined were coming from a cellphone in South Florida, not the nation's capital. She also discovered the company, GMY, had been flagged by the Better Business Bureau in multiple states.

On the company's fourth call, Gomes picked up the phone. "I told them to never call back again. They were arguing with me: 'But we're trying to protect her against unscrupulous people!'"

It's a common scenario.

"We probably get at least a call a day about Medicare (scams)," said Cailin Peterson, spokeswoman for the Northeast California Better Business Bureau in West Sacramento. Sometimes the caller claims to be from Medicare and needs to update personal financial information, such as bank account or Social Security numbers. Others promise new benefits or services that require confirming personal data.

"It's been around awhile but we've seen an increase with the Affordable Care Act coming into play," said Peterson. "There are a lot of scam phone calls about Obamacare."

Consumer complaints about Obamacare-related fraud attempts became more apparent in 2012, according to the Federal Trade Commission, which issued a warning about health care scammers earlier this summer.

Peterson's advice: Hang up on unsolicited callers who ask for your bank account information. Do not accept offers of "free" medical services, medic-alert bracelets or other items in exchange for your Medicare number. Always remember: the "government" will not call, text or email to ask for your Social Security number or address. (It already knows.)

Another fraudulent phone ruse is callers who claim to be from a "Microsoft tech support" or a "Windows help desk" team, saying they need to resolve a computer problem, update your customer account or install a security fix. What they really want is to nab your credit card info, install malware to steal your user name/passwords, or gain remote access to your computer.

On a website page devoted to warning consumers about such phony "tech support" scams, Microsoft says it never makes "cold calls" to offer computer security or software fixes. It warns customers to "not trust" phone solicitors and never give out credit card information, provide computer access or pay for any tech-support services.

Then there's the "unlock" your computer ruse.

You're sitting at your computer and a screen pops up, purportedly from the FBI, National Security Agency or Department of Homeland Security. It says your computer has been locked due to illegal activity, such as downloads of copyrighted videos and music or pornography. In some instances, consumers are directed to pay a $300 fee to "unlock" their computers, using a prepaid money card, such as GreenDot.

It's a scam known as "ransomware," which is essentially a ploy to extort money from gullible consumers.

"The government is not going to lock your computer over this issue, nor are they going to require anyone to wire money to pay a fine," said BBB's Peterson, who said this scam has recently hit both PC and Mac computer users.

If you've been targeted by online fraudsters, contact the legitimate company that's been spoofed, such as Microsoft, or report the incident to the federal Internet Crime Complaint Center, www.ic3.gov.

(Reach the Sacramento Bee's Claudia Buck at cbuck@sacbee.com, or read her personal finance blog, www.sacbee.com/personalfinanceblog. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.shns.com.)

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.shns.com.)
 

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