Portage police, federal agencies urge consumers to remain vigilant against financial scams

February 14, 2019

Kathy Thom politely invited the person on the other end of the telephone claiming to be a Medicare employee to send information about new required cards to her house through the mail.

Then she hung up the phone Tuesday morning, suspicious of a possible scam.

Sure enough, by the time she got off the phone with a verified representative from Medicare, she realized she had been contacted falsely. The true Medicare employee told her the agency would never call requesting money and always sends such information in the mail.

“This was a new one,” Thom said. “They asked for me by name.”

Dan Garrigan, a detective lieutenant for the Portage Police Department, urges consumers to remain vigilant as phony calls continue to plague community members.

“There’s all kinds of precursors,” Garrigan said. “It could be your grandson is in jail. You owe money. They have a special offer. Whatever that initial catch may be.”

And if an offer seems too good to be true, Garrigan said it probably is not true.

Thom said the scams she receives occur in waves, and she wonders whether her mother, who is elderly and also on Medicare, could be another target of fishy calls.

“I could see how easily any older person on Medicare could fall for this one,” Thom said. “A lot of people believe everything that people tell them. There’s a lot of scammers out there.”

Whenever he sees new scams popping up, Garrigan said he posts on the Portage Police Department’s Facebook page to warn community members.

Several recent scams have involved callers claiming to be from a government agency or law enforcement and asking consumers to buy Apple or Google Play gift cards as a form of payment. Some local residents have fallen prey to such scams.

“Authorities are never ever, never ever, going to ask you for a gift card as payment. Never ever,” Garrigan said.

Other recent scams have involved callers falsely identifying themselves as Microsoft employees and conducting so-called computer repairs for enormous amounts of money, sometimes in the thousands of dollars.

As tax season is in full swing now, other scams claiming that consumers owe the IRS money or face being arrested tend to come up frequently, Garrigan said.

Some “pyramid scams” target recent college graduates or other people searching for employment, Garrigan said. Such scams tend to ask people to cash a bad check and keep some of the money, while sending the rest on. In those cases, multiple unwitting victims lose some money.

Garrigan says the most important thing consumers can do is to ask questions when in doubt.

While common sense and skepticism can go a long way, he said people shouldn’t beat themselves up if they are targeted or fall prey to scams because it happens all the time. They should simply keep moving forward and remain vigilant.

“If it happens, don’t be ashamed,” Garrigan said.

The U.S. Bureau of Consumer Protection has a hotline for citizens to call to report scams. The number is 800-422-7128.

Jerad Albracht, senior communications specialist for the federal bureau, said awareness matters.

“It really all comes down to protection and awareness of the scams that are out there,” Albracht said.

A plethora of resources can be found on the bureau’s website. Among those available are tips for how to avoid fraud and a guide for senior citizens.

Liz Schinderle, a Medicare spokeswoman for a regional office based in Chicago, said the agency has a variety of resources available for consumers to protect themselves from scams.

One such resource is the Senior Medicare Patrol, a grant-funded project by U.S. Health and Human Services that aims to help protect Medicare recipients. The project’s toll-free hotline is 888-818-2611.

Consumers on Medicare also can call a hotline at 800-633-4227. Citizens can also contact the U.S. Office of the Inspector General at 800-447-8477.

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