Don’t be fooled by holiday scams

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The National Sheriffs Association has once again issued its alert about the financial scams that always spring up at this time of the year. And while Anderson County seems to have escaped the worst of the annual outbreak so far, Sheriff John Skipper warns, “Citizens may be targeted with one or more of these particular scams.”

The lottery con is the number one scam affecting citizens across the country and fraudsters involved in this scam often target senior citizens. Keep in mind that legitimate lottery officials will NEVER ask you to wire money to pay taxes on lottery winnings; yet this is what fraudsters hope that you will do unwittingly.

To guard against any financial scam, DO NOT give out your Social Security number or any sensitive information to someone who claims to be from a bank, a credit-card company, or a store. This is the simplest and most effective step you can take to protect yourself, and your personal and financial information. If you are uncertain, tell the person you will call them back. Then call your bank or credit-card company using phone numbers you have on file. Do not rely on your phone’s caller ID display, since there is now software available to the scammers that will display legitimate phone numbers erroneously.

Many scams are worked off of commonplace , day to day aspects of our lives. For example, fraudsters have developed a clever ruse to steal money from homeowners and small businesses across the county. Callers claim to be from your local power company and they pretend they’re calling to let you know that your account is delinquent and will be disconnected unless you pay the bill right away.

To help you quickly “fix” the issue, the caller recommends that you obtain a prepaid debit card from a local store and provide them with the card’s access information. The money, of course, is never applied to your account. It goes straight into the scammers pockets. To add credibility to their story, offenders often use “spoofing technology” that makes your phone’s caller ID display the name and phone number of the local utility company.

Locally, Duke Power has launched a public awareness campaign in several of its service areas to help thwart this type of crime. They have indicated that they will never call and threaten immediate service disconnection, nor require customers to provide them with prepaid card information to satisfy a bill.

Identity Theft is on the rise; but, so too is medical identity theft. Within the last year, it is up 20 percent according to a recent national survey. This crime is popular with criminals because a medical record is actually more valuable (on the open market) than other forms of personal information; and medical identity theft can be perpetrated without your knowledge. It may be years, or decades later before you find out that your medical record has been changed, which could put you at great risk.

Fraud experts predict that the problem will get worse with the government-mandated use of electronic health records and as more people obtain coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

To protect one’s self from this type of scam, the following actions are recommended:

Review your medical Explanation of Benefits (EOB) after each office visit or treatment. Ensure that your listed doctors and services performed are accurate. If not, contact your insurer immediately. After careful review, shred your EOB or file it in a secure location.

Obtain your “benefits request” annually. Your insurer can provide a comprehensive list of benefits paid in your name.

To avoid unauthorized use, report lost or stolen health insurance ID cards to your insurer as soon as possible.

Be sure you are dealing with a reputable health-care provider. Be cautious of free medical services. Fraudsters often use free services as a way to obtain personal information.

Review your credit reports annually and make sure they are free of any medical liens. You have a right to request a free annual credit report from each of the three credit bureaus.

Telemarketing fraud often involves offers of free prizes, low-cost vitamins and health care products, and inexpensive vacations. It’s very difficult to get your money back if you’ve been cheated over the telephone. Remember:

Always buy from familiar companies or check out unfamiliar companies with the local consumer protection agency, the Better Business Bureau, state attorney general’s office or the National Fraud Information Center.

Always ask for, and wait until you receive, written material about any offer or charity. If you get brochures about costly investments, ask someone whose financial advice you trust to review the information.

Always obtain a salesperson’s name, business identity, telephone number, street address, mailing address, and business license number; and verify the accuracy of the information before you transact business.

Since January 1, 2013, the Sheriff’s Office has received over 400 reports of fraudulent activity; of these, 145 have been classified as scams.