The 7 Most Common Scams and Frauds of 2020 That Seniors Should Know About
Updated August 19, 2020 to include information on two new scams involving contact tracing and free face masks
There are so many scams going on these days that it's tough to figure out what's real and who's just out to get your money or personal information. Scams seem to be more sophisticated than ever!
We did some research to sort out the most common scams and frauds of 2020.
Please take a few minutes to become familiar with these scams so you don't fall for them! Additionally, never give out your personal information over the internet or the phone.
1. Medicare Fraud with COVID-19 Testing, Contact Tracing, and Face Masks
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General Christi Grimm (HHS-OIG) is warning people about all kinds of Medicare fraud revolving around COVID-19.
Free COVID-19 Tests
Scammers target Medicare beneficiaries by offering them free COVID-19 tests in exchange for personal information, including Medicare numbers.
Why? So they can bill Medicare thousands of dollars under your name.
Through social media platforms, text messages, telemarketing calls, and even door-to-door visits, these swindlers use the coronavirus pandemic to gather real Medicare numbers to use on fraudulent medical claims.
There are two big reasons you shouldn’t fall for this scam. First, Medicare Part B covers coronavirus testing. If you took a test after February 4, 2020, you don’t have to pay for it. Also, if someone uses your Medicare number to make false medical claims, you could be responsible for the costs.
The HHS-OIG offers the following advice to make sure you don't accidentally fall for this scam:
- Always be cautious of anyone asking for your Medicare number – especially if you didn't ask for their service
- Don't accept unexpected calls or visitors offering COVID-19 tests or supplies
- Don't respond to or open hyperlinks in text messages about COVID-19 from unknown individuals
- Ignore offers or advertisements for COVID-19 testing or treatments on social media sites
- Have your physician or healthcare provider assess your condition and approve any requests for COVID-19 testing
- Don't give your personal or financial information to anyone claiming to offer HHS grants related to COVID-19
COVID-19 Contract Tracing
A new scam has been reported involving scammers pretending to be contract tracing.
Legitimate contact tracers will never ask for your Medicare Number or financial information. If someone calls and asks for personal information, like your Medicare Number, hang up and report it to us at 1-800-MEDICARE.
Free Face Masks or COVID-19 Testing Kits
Have you gotten robocalls, text messages, or emails offering free face masks? Or maybe you've seen social media posts about free COVID-19 testing kits, "cures," or protective equipment?
Unfortunately scammers are using the COVID-19 pandemic to try to steal your Medicare Number and personal information. If anyone reaches out to get your Medicare Number or personal information in exchange for something, you can bet it's a scam.
If you suspect fraud, call 1-800-MEDICARE to report it. COVID-19 health care fraud can also be reported online or by calling 800-HHS-TIPS 1-800-447-8477.
2. 2020 Census Scams
The census, designed to count every resident in the United States, is mandated through Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution, and takes place every 10 years. 2020 is a census year, and scammers see this as an opportunity.
Scammers will call you, email you, or even come to your house to try to get your personal information claiming it has to do with the United States Census.
The U.S. Census Bureau sends out invitations to participate in the census to most homes through the mail, but they will hand-deliver them in some areas. They don't send out invitations by email.
The official website for the Census Bureau is 2020census.gov. This is one way you can check for authenticity. All Census Bureau websites end with .gov, so be sure to check for this if you deal with them online.
If someone comes to your home from the Census Bureau, you can make sure they are legitimate by asking to see their badge with their picture, the U.S. Department of Commerce watermark, and the expiration date.
If you are still unsure if your visitor is an actual representative, call 1-844-330-2020 to speak with a Census Bureau representative.
The Census Bureau will never ask for:
- Your Social Security number
- Your bank account or credit card numbers
- Anything on behalf of a political party
- Money or donations
If you suspect a fraudulent person has contacted you about the U.S. Census, call 1-844-330-2020 to make a report. If you had a scammer visit your home, you should also call your local police department to report the incident.
3. Social Security Spoofing Phone Calls and Emails
In 2019, the Social Security Administration (SSA) reported a significant increase in fraudulent phone calls from scammers who claim to work for the SSA, but in 2020, these con artists have added a new twist to the scam.
These callers are ultimately trying to convince the recipients to call another phone number and even threaten that the citizen will be arrested or face other legal action if they don’t.
They guise their scam by saying the citizen experienced improper or illegal activity with their Social Security Number (SSN).
Also, don't be fooled by the number the scammers use. They can often spoof the caller I.D. to display SSA's national customer service phone number, 1-800-772-1213.
The twist to this scam is that these phone calls are being followed up by emails. The Inspector General of Social Security, Gail S. Ennis, says victims of the Social Security scam also receive emailed documents that appear to be on official letterhead. These documents often demand "payment via retail gift card, cash, wire transfer, internet currency such as Bitcoin, or prepaid debit card."
Be cautious, and know that an SSA staff member would never threaten you or ask you to call another phone number, nor will they ask for any payment type. If you receive a suspicious call or email, report it online at https://oig.ssa.gov/report.
General Ennis encourages you to exercise extreme caution when receiving any unsolicited contact. She says Social Security will in most cases, correspond with you through the mail, but they will never:
- threaten you with arrest or other legal action unless you immediately pay a fine or fee
- promise a benefit increase or additional assistance in exchange for payment
- require payment by retail gift card, cash, wire transfer, internet currency, or prepaid debit card
- send official letters or reports containing personally identifiable information via email
Further Reading: Medicare and Social Security: How They Work Together
4. Banking Scams
Banking scams come in all shapes and sizes, and you're bound to experience at least one in your lifetime. These scams aim to get access to your bank account, and unfortunately, they happen all the time, no matter the year.
The scammer might try several things, including:
- A phone call where the caller explains your bank account has been compromised, and they just need you to confirm your account number to double-check
- A text saying your bank account has been overdrawn with a link that takes you a website where you input your account number
- A company sets up an automatic debit from your bank account as part of a free trial or to collect lottery winnings
- An email message that asks you to verify your bank account or debit card number
- A check is sent to you, but if you cash it, you might be authorizing the purchase of items or signing up for a loan you didn't want
Report any fake checks you receive in the mail to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Federal Trade Commission 1-877-382-4357.
If you're unsure whether a phone call, text, or email is real or fake, call your bank and ask! And never click any links in a text or an email that ask you to verify your bank account information.
5. National Disaster Scams
As you know, scammers are heartless, and they'll use even the most debilitating of times to scam you out of your money. A recent scam comes from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in preparation for hurricane season.
When a national disaster or hurricane occurs, fraudulent schemes generally begin with full force. Scams come in the form of phone calls, social media messages, emails, or even in-person!
Some scammers pretend to be charities to collect donations, some set up fake websites impersonating charities for donations, and some even claim to work for the IRS to help victims file loss claims and get tax refunds.
The IRS says that if you've been a victim of a disaster, you should call their IRS toll-free disaster assistance phone number 1-866-562-5227. There, you can ask questions about tax relief or disaster-related tax issues.
In addition, to donate to a charity, you can verify qualified charities via the Tax Exempt Organization Search: https://www.irs.gov/charities-non-profits/tax-exempt-organization-search.
6. IRS Imposter Scams
In the all-too-famous IRS Imposter Scams, someone calls you and pretends that they work for the IRS. They tell you that you owe taxes, and if you don't pay them, you could be arrested.
This is completely fake! The IRS would never call you out of the blue. You would receive a notice in the mail before you'd ever get a phone call about unpaid taxes.
If you're concerned that the phone call is real, ask the caller to provide their name, badge number, and callback number. Then, call TIGTA at 1-800-366-4484 to verify that the caller is a real IRS employee.
Always be suspicious of any calls asking you to pay money over the phone or on the spot.
7. Sweepstakes and Lottery Scams
While many reputable companies out there do legitimate sweepstakes, there are more scammers than not.
These scammers hold fake lotteries, sweepstakes, and contests in exchange for personal information or even money!
They claim that you've won a prize, but you only need to pay a small fee to collect it.
If you want to enter a sweepstake, make sure it's being held by a company you trust. Beware of any lotteries or sweepstakes that show up on your computer via a pop-up.
These prize scammers might also try to reach you via postal mail, email, phone, or text message. While the prize can seem impressive, pinch yourself and be reminded that it's likely a scam!
Unfortunately, there will always be dishonest people who try to steal anything they can from others.
Stay alert! These crooks are professionals, and they can sound and look convincing. Don’t be afraid to check out anything suspicious.
Most importantly, don’t give anyone your personal information until you know with complete certainty the person receiving it is legitimate.
You can report scams to the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-382-4357.
Sign Up For the Medicare Allies Newsletter
As a subscriber, you'll receive videos, free downloadable resources, and educational content straight to your email inbox.Subscribe
Our team of dedicated, licensed agents can help you as little or as much as you need. Whether it’s answering a few questions about Medicare or creating a comprehensive Medicare Planner with you, we are your Medicare Allies.