BBB: Avoid holiday and health care scams

BBB: Watch out for holiday and health care scams

Tis the season to be jolly! Unfortunately, the holidays are not a time of rest for scammers and with all of the holiday distractions, they target people hoping that they will be too busy to notice the red flags of a possible scam.

Your Better Business Bureau is urging consumers to remain vigilant and alert during the holiday season for the following scams:

•    Holiday Phishing Cons - Around the holidays, beware of emails pretending to be from businesses like UPS, FedEx or major retailers with links to package tracking information. Avoid clicking on links or opening attachments to emails until you have confirmed that they are not malicious. Some emails can infect your computer with a virus or download malware if you click a link. Email addresses that don't match up, typos and grammatical errors are common red flags of a phishing scam. Make sure you have current antivirus software on your computer.

•    Secret Sister, Secret Santa, Secret Wine Bottle Exchange - Tis the season... to get scammed on Facebook.  These are spreading across Facebook like wildfire, and unfortunately, users are (still) falling for it. It sounds like a fun Secret Santa-like gift exchange, but it's actually a pyramid scheme in disguise. While gift exchanges grow in popularity during the holiday season, BBB advises consumers to use caution when choosing one in which to participate. "According to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service's gambling and pyramid scheme laws, gift chains like this are illegal and participants could be subject to penalties for mail fraud."  The scam "exchanges" always follow the same pattern: A Facebook users posts a status, tagging dozens of friends, asking a minimum of 6 people to participate. Friends of the user who wish to participate are then instructed to buy one bottle of wine — or other gift — valued at $15 or more and send it to one secret wine lover. In return, participants are told that they will receive from 6 to 36 wine bottles.

•    "Dear Santa" Scams - While there are legitimate organizations and businesses that sell letters from Santa, con artists are also in the market to steal credit card information and the personal information of children. Check out the reputation of a business at bbb.org before committing to a service and read the site's privacy policy to see how your child's information can be used and if it will be shared with any third parties.

•    Fake Puppies for Sale - Scammers create fake websites or online listings claiming to be puppy breeders, luring people in with cute pictures and promises of adopting a healthy puppy. Before the dog can be delivered, the expecting family must pay an adoption fee, shipping costs, insurance, and veterinarian fees via wire transfer. Once money is sent, the puppy never ends up arriving. Remember that if you have a puppy shipped, you don't know anything about it. Arrange to visit and pick up the dog in person. Check the breeder's credentials with BBB and the American Kennel Club and obtain an independent veterinarian checkup to ensure the puppy is healthy before the adoption.

•    Identity Theft and ATM Skimmers - While you're struggling with bags of presents, identity thieves may see an opportunity to steal your wallet or look over your shoulder to copy your debit or credit card numbers. Don't let yourself get bogged down in purchases or lose track of your wallet. Know where your credit and debit cards are at all times and cover the keypad when entering your pin number while purchasing items or getting money from an ATM. To steal your credit or debit card information, scammers will install skimming devices at ATMs or put faceplates over payment terminals so they can access your accounts. Make sure you put your card back in your wallet after each purchase.

•    Fake Data Breach Claims - Taking advantage of data breach fears, scammers will call pretending to be retailers asking for personal information to "sort things out." If you are unsure of a caller's claims, call the company's known customer service number directly and ask to speak to the fraud department. Since you called the number, you should be safe to give out personal information if asked.

•    Too Good To Be True Text Messages - You receive a text message informing you that you've won a Best Buy gift card (or Target, Home Depot or other major retailer). You just need to go to a website and enter a PIN, and the card is yours. The text's URL leads to a website that has the company's colors and logo. It looks authentic with the company's name as the site's subdomain. However, the texts are just a way for scammers to collect personal information and sometimes even financial details, claiming the information is necessary to confirm your identity or cover taxes/shipping of your "free" prize.

Spot a business or offer that sounds like an illegal scheme or fraud? Tell your BBB! Help us investigate and warn others by reporting what you know.Report and track the latest scams targeting your area this holiday season at BBB Scam Tracker.

If you see a headline one day, you can be sure a related scam will follow soon after. With the Affordable Care Act in the news, scammers are on the prowl, calling, emailing, sending letters and texts, trying to get your money – and your personal and financial information. Scammers know you have questions about the new Health Insurance Marketplace, and they’re taking advantage of that to mislead you.

Here’s what those scams look like – and what you can do about them.

Charging you for help getting new insurance:

Someone contacts you, offering to help you navigate the Health Insurance Marketplace for a fee – or saying that you need a new insurance card now or you’ll have to pay a penalty. Regardless of the set-up, their goal is to get your bank account or credit card number.

Don’t give your information. The people who offer legitimate help with the Health Insurance Marketplace – sometimes called Navigators or Assisters – are not allowed to charge you. In fact, you can’t pay them. What’s more, you don’t need to buy a special insurance card, or pay any penalties for not buying one, either. Bottom line: Never give your money or your information to anyone who contacts you.

Medicare cards:

Someone gets in touch, saying you need a new Medicare card because of “Obamacare.” They tell you that you’ll lose Medicare coverage if you don’t pay a fee for a new card or give them your Social Security number and bank account or credit card number.

Not true. The Affordable Care Act doesn’t say you need a new Medicare card, or another health insurance card. Nor does the law say you’ll lose Medicare coverage. Don’t give your personal or financial information to anyone who contacts you. When in doubt, call 1-800-MEDICARE, before you give anyone your money or information. 

Medical discount scams:

Someone contacts you, offering discounts on health services and products. They might say the discount plan will save you money and that it meets the minimum coverage required under “Obamacare” so you won’t have to pay a penalty or look at other plans.

Medical discount plans are not health insurance. Sometimes, medical discount plans illegally pretend to be insurance. Ask specific questions and don’t pay until you read the terms. Your state insurance commissioner’s office can tell you if a health plan is insurance. Most medical discount plans are a membership in a “club” that claims to offer reduced prices from certain doctors, certain pharmacies, and on some procedures.

Some medical discount plans provide legitimate discounts, but others are scams that don’t deliver on the medical services promised. Others are attempts to get your personal or financial information, so the scammer can use it to commit identity fraud.

Insurance agents

Someone claiming to be an insurance agent gets in touch to say you should “act now” to get your new insurance. They may promise to get you a special deal or help you avoid a penalty. Or they might say they can help you avoid losing access to your current doctors under Medicare – unless you sign up for a Medicare Advantage Plan.

Not true. If you have Medicare, the open enrollment for Medicare Part D and Medicare Advantage Plans stays the same. You don’t have to do anything different because of the Affordable Care Act. While some insurance agents can help you with your application through the Health Insurance Marketplace, don’t give your personal information or pay any money to someone who contacts you.
“I can help you. Really.”

Someone contacts you, offering to help you navigate the Health Insurance Marketplace. There really are trained people who can help. But experts expect scammers to wade in here, too. So…  
See what they do. The helpers might be called navigators, assistors, counselors, connectors, or something similar. The important thing is what they do. The official helpers will try to help you find the plan that serves you best. If you want, they might help you get signed up through HealthCare.gov. They will not try to sell you a particular plan or ask for money to help you. If someone does that, chances are they’re not an official trained helper.

“I’m from the government.”

No. They’re not. The government will not call you about your health insurance; and no one from the government will ask you to verify your Social Security number or bank information. Some government agencies might send you a letter (for example, Medicare and the IRS), but they will never ask you to wire them money or give your credit card number. If someone calls, emails, or texts and says they’re from the government, it’s a scam.
Report any scams you see

Call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357) or go to ftc.gov/complaint. Your reports give the FTC the information it needs to launch investigations, and put scammers out of business.

If you’re shopping in the Health Insurance Marketplace, do it at HealthCare.gov. People who try to sign you up elsewhere just might be scamming you.

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