Scams target elderly, mobile phone users and travelers

By Robert E. Holtfreter, Ph.D., CFE, CICA


robert-holtfreter-80x80.jpg   Taking Back the ID: Identity theft prevention analysis

Molly Rosboch, a writer for the Yakima (Wash.) Herald-Republic newspaper, reported the following Medicare identity theft scam in the June 5 article, “Scammers ‘phishing’ for personal info pose as Medicare agents.” 

During the first week of June, Linda Badgley of Yakima received a telephone call from a woman who said she was a representative from Medicare. She told Badgley that the agency needed to send her a new card, but she first needed to verify Badgley’s personally identifiable information (PII). Badgley told the women that she had previously contacted Medicare, and she knew this call was a scam. The caller quickly hung up. 

Badgley was prepared for the bogus caller. Earlier, she had received a call from a man, who said he was from Medicare, who gave her the same pitch and requested her banking information. During both bogus calls, the scam artists already knew Badgley’s first and last name and her address. 

Fraudsters have been very successful in the U.S. in foisting this scam on the elderly and robbing them of their money. Matt Serafini, in an article, “Medicare Phone Scams Continue Dogging Seniors Throughout 2013,” posted March 14 on the “ehealth Medicare” blog, reported the following:

“These cons are incredibly successful, costing taxpayers billions of dollars annually. … In these instances, fraudulent callers will attempt to trick their targets into divulging sensitive information. They may say that a new Medicare card has been mailed out, and then ask for your checking account number so Medicare can deposit funds directly into your account. Other phone calls will ask you to verify your Medicare number (which is also your Social Security number) so that you can be issued an ‘updated’ Medicare card. Another variation finds the caller stating that Medicare is ready to pay for medical supplies — an arthritis kit, for example — and requests your Social Security number for confirmation. No matter the scenario, the endgame is almost always the same: The caller is looking to gain access to your bank account, or steal your identity.”

Fraudsters target the elderly because they’re often lonely and trusting. They gather their victims’ PII before they call, work from a well-designed script and are empathetic and convincing. 

Serafini offers the following advice in his blog posting to help protect the elderly:
  • “The first thing to know is that Medicare will never call you. In the rare occasion that they may, they will never request sensitive information of you.”
  • “Never carry your Medicare card in your wallet. Instead, keep it in a safe and secure spot where you’ll remember. If you have to carry your Medicare card on your person, make a copy of it and black out all but the last four digits with a marker. These cards do not expire. You are issued one as soon as you enroll and it never needs to be renewed. If you happen to lose it, contact Medicare directly in order to report a missing card.”
  • “If you ever question the validity of a phone call, tell the caller you would like to call them back and ask for their direct number. This will usually make them hang up. A good rule of thumb is not to give out potentially sensitive information over the Internet, on the phone or to unsolicited strangers.”
  • “Additionally, you may always contact the customer service number on the back of your Medicare card if you have any questions or concerns.”


The FBI recently alerted law enforcement agencies and the public about several identity theft scams that continue to flourish.

Travelers’ laptop scam
The FBI reported that “Malware Installed on Travelers’ Laptops Through Software Updates on Hotel Internet Connections” on May 8, 2012. Fraudsters target you when you’re innocently setting up Internet connections on your laptop in your hotel room. 

A pop-up window emerges on your screen telling you to update a well-known software product. However, don’t immediately click and accept the update because a malicious software could be installed on the laptop leading to potential loss of PII. The FBI recommends: 
  • All government, private industry, and academic personnel who travel abroad take extra caution before updating software products through their hotel Internet connections. 
  • If the author or digital certificate of any prompted update doesn’t correspond to the software vendor it might reveal an attempted attack. 
  • Update software on your laptop immediately before traveling. While traveling, only download software updates directly from software vendors’ websites. 
  • If you think you’re a victim, contact the local FBI office and promptly report it to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). The IC3’s complaint database links complaints together to refer them to appropriate law enforcement agencies. It also uses complaint information to identify emerging trends and patterns.


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