Scams are on my mind again. I hope you aren't getting tired of me passing on this kind of information but scams are constantly evolving. If I can prevent just one person from being scammed, it's worth doing.
I mentioned in a previous column that I registered with NotifyMeHoward.com, an online service, to get updates on important information from Howard County, especially on senior issues or activities that might adversely affect older adults.
In February, I received an email through NotifyMeHoward, from Kim Henry, of the Howard County Department of Citizen Services. It was a warning about calls from individuals who claim to represent Microsoft or some other reputable company. The caller advises you that they have detected a problem on your computer. Reputable computer companies do not make cold calls soliciting information or charges.
County residents have made a number of reports to the Department's Office of Consumer Affairs, stating that they have been targets of "The Microsoft Scam." Once the "Microsoft representative" states that you have a problem with your computer, the caller requests access to the computer's operating system to correct the issue. Of course, with a sense of urgency, you are told to act quickly or there will be dire consequences to the operating system.
The caller sends a link by email. Once you click on that link, the caller gains access to your computer, under the guise that you are granting the caller remote access to your computer to fix the problem. Once access is gained, the caller can install software to capture your online banking user names and passwords; adjust settings, leaving your computer vulnerable to further attacks; and collect your address book of family, friends and other contacts who can be further targeted for scams.
The final blow is when the caller informs you there is a charge for the service. The caller may request credit card information to pay for the phony service or direct you to a fraudulent website where you are requested to give credit card and other personal or financial information.
A good rule of thumb is: Don't respond to phone calls or email that discuss a problem, for which you didn't initiate a request for customer service. Always seek assistance from a reputable repair company or from the computer manufacturer, using their published phone numbers.
For more information and/or to report a potential scam, contact the Office of Consumer Affairs at 410-313-6420 or firstname.lastname@example.org or go to the Office of Consumer Affairs on Facebook.
This may be the most heinous financial scam yet. If you are a federal retiree, as I am, you could become the target of a scam to rob you of your pension. "Pension advance" schemes offer cash and borrowers are required to sign over all or part of their future monthly pension checks to a separate bank account managed by the company.
"The companies attempt to circumvent current state and federal laws prohibiting assignment of pensions to third parties, and often carry usurious interest rates not appropriately disclosed to the borrower. Federal retirees and veterans are among those who have been the targets." (NARFE magazine January 2014) Be aware of such schemes and warn your federal retiree friends and family, so they won't be vulnerable to this scam.
Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Pa., introduced a bill, H.R. 3310, the Annuity Safety and Security Under Reasonable Enforcement (ASSURE) Act, to stop this practice. The bill is co-sponsored by almost 50 members of the House of Representatives.
Finally, I am only going to briefly touch on this one because the specific details are sensitive. But I do want to warn you to avoid the possibility of developing a long distance, dependent relationship with a healing minister in another state, who may promise to cure your health problem online and charges for the healing services. In a case I am aware of the minister advised the "patient" not to take the treatments the doctor ordered, and when the individual finally decided to go with the treatments, it was too late.
For further inquiry, "Google" terms: senior scam, phone scam, rip off and consumer safety online.