Scam artists sharpen their aim at the elderly

Medicare fraud, house work

tgoldsmith@newsobserverSeptember 16, 2012 

North Carolina’s 65-plus population is on a sharp rise, with a projected climb from more than a million today to more than two million by 2030. Unfortunately, scam artists are also increasingly out to separate the aging boomers from their retirement income and holdings.

That’s the word from a conference last week in Asheville that brought together governmental, nonprofit and business leaders who deal with aging in eight Southeastern states.

According to the North Carolina attorney general’s office and the Senior Health Insurance Information Program, here are examples of the fraud that’s on the prowl:

Medicare trickery

A close look at a recipients’ Medicare Summary Notice, similar to an explanation of benefits from an insurance company, can reveal an overcharge or even a totally spurious claim.

“It might list a doctor in Florida that you’ve never heard of,” said Diane Trainor, outreach specialist with the state’s Senior Medicare Patrol Program.

Pricey items such as motorized wheelchairs can be billed to a recipient’s account by someone who has gotten a person’s Medicare number by trickery.

A tip: Never give out a Social Security or Medicare number to someone who’s making a cold call.

Older people might not suffer out-of-pocket losses from Medicare fraud, but the nation as a whole loses billions annually, Trainor said.

The Driveway Scam 2.0

Scam artists show up at people’s houses with what they claim is excess paving material. They talk the homeowner into a “deal,” then charge $2,000 or so for a job worth more like $500, said David Kirkman, a state assistant attorney general and chair of the multi-agency Senior Adult Fraud Task Force.

Recently, the crooks have started jacking up the price.

“They started saying, ‘Why not $8,000? Why not $23,000?’ ” Kirkman said, noting that the stakes are rapidly increasing in many common frauds.

Give me a ticket ...

Law enforcement agencies have had good success, in collaboration with banks and companies such as Western Union, in walling off the so-called “mega-victims,” who repeatedly fall for scam artists asking for successively larger amounts of money to claim nonexistent sweepstakes prizes. Changed phone numbers, monitored mail and limited access to websites did the trick, until the scam artists started inviting victims to visit them on other continents.

“Two of the victims got on airplanes and went overseas,” Kirkman said. “A vulnerable older woman went to Ghana with $64,000 in her suitcase.”

Goldsmith: 919-829-8929

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