Protect yourself from scams and fraud

This week our special spokesperson is Catherine Angus Zavoras, Legal Services Developer, from the Lt. Governor’s Office on Aging. Cat’s role is to help seniors obtain legal services when needed and to empower seniors to advocate for themselves, including helping our seniors protect themselves from scams and fraud.

Former Lt. Gov. John Yancey McGill was appointed the director of the Office on Aging in January. He is focused on continuing and improving aging programs that protect and serve our seniors, and increasing the focus on scams and fraud prevention.

Overall, the Lt. Governor’s Office on Aging offers numerous programs and services and partners with other entities to provide services that benefit our senior population, ranging from Alzheimer’s Support and Respite Care to Medicare Assistance. The Home and Community Based Services Program includes senior transportation, group dining, and home delivered meals for seniors.

In protecting seniors from scams and frauds, the Office on Aging provides information, makes referrals to other agencies and resources that can help or advocate, and provide referrals for legal assistance when appropriate.

Schemes and scams are concentrated nationally in areas with large senior populations. South Carolina has one of the fastest growing senior populations in the country, so our senior citizens are very likely to be targeted. Some of the most prevalent schemes and scams are:

Lottery Scam: A senior receives a phone call and is told that he or she has won a sweepstakes or a lottery but needs to send money to cover the delivery expense. When the senior sends the money, it is quickly transferred out of the United States and is usually not recoverable. These calls are always scams because real lotteries cover their own expenses. Also, if you did not enter a drawing or buy a lottery or sweepstakes ticket, your name cannot be drawn or selected.

Psychic Scheme: A senior receives a letter in the mail from a “renowned psychic,” usually offering a “free reading.” Eventually, the psychic “befriends” the seniors, makes promises, and takes their money.

IRS Scam: Someone calls or leaves a voice message, saying that they are with the IRS, and that you have not paid your taxes correctly. The caller offers this “one opportunity to pay” or says you will be prosecuted. If you receive this call/message, hang up and do not call back. IRS does not make such phone calls.

Medicare Discount Card Scam: This is a real card, and while some seniors who are enrolled in Medicare are eligible, not everyone is. Companies can only advertise by mail, TV, radio, or print media. If someone calls, emails, or comes to your house uninvited to sell you this card, it is a scam.

Charity Scams: Be careful. If you are asked for credit card information to help the victims of a recent natural disaster, it may be credit card fraud.

Identity Theft and Information Theft: If you are asked for sensitive personal financial information such as bank account numbers and Social Security numbers, do NOT provide the information. Banks or credit card issuers know your banking information. Payers, like Medicare and social security, have your information. Legitimate callers will not ask you to furnish this information by phone or online.

Counterfeit Drug Scams: Some medications are very expensive and seniors cannot always afford them. On-line “pharmacies” appear to be legitimate and advertise cheaper prices or other, more effective medications than your local pharmacy offers. When you order and the drugs arrive, the “drugs” are often useless knockoffs.

Grandparent Scams: You receive a call, usually late at night. The voice is muffled, but the caller says they are (or are calling for) your child or grandchild, that they are in trouble, and that they need you to wire money for medical or legal expenses immediately. This is a scam. Do not send money. Call another family member to investigate the situation and set your mind at ease.

Traveling scam artists (sometimes called “Gypsy” or “Irish” Travelers): These “workers” solicit door to door. Sometimes they will sell merchandise, at a “great price” but the merchandise is cheap and/or poor quality. Sometimes, they offer driveways or roof repair or will cut trees. They will do part of the job or do a very bad job, get paid, and then leave town.

Forewarned is forearmed. If we know what the risks, we can protect ourselves from them. More information on the Office on Aging, scams and frauds, and the other services offered can be found online at The Lt. Governor’s Office on Aging can be reached at 803-734-9900, or toll-free at 1-800-868-9095. Seniors can also call Cat Zavoras directly at 803-734-9983.