Fall is the Season . . . For Scams

Here’s what you need to be aware of this holiday season, as each turn of the calendar brings with it another scam to be on the lookout for.

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Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Fall is basically one holiday after the other. But with each turn of the calendar comes another scam to be on the lookout for. Here’s what you need to be aware of this holiday season.

Online Shopping Scams

The holiday deals have already begun, but buyer beware – not all of those great deals you see online are legit. Because if the online shopping season has started it means that online scam season has officially begun too.

Here are the two simple steps you can take to stay a step ahead of the online grinch this holiday shopping season.

Type – don’t click. The safest place to shop online is with retailers you trust by using their app or typing their web address into your browser rather than clicking on a link from a text, email or online ad. Also, know that unbelievable deal a social media contact messages you about is truly not to be believed. Fraud criminals are expert at hacking social media accounts and one of the first things they do is send out fake offers to a victim’s friends and family.

Medicare Open Enrollment Scams

It’s open enrollment season, which also means it’s Medicare fraud season. Eligible beneficiaries have until December 7 to shop for the best deal for their health care dollar. Unfortunately, some of the deals offered won’t be deals at all.

Medicare scams spike during open enrollment season, with scammers posing as insurance providers offering free gifts or limited time offers. These scams are all designed to capture information that can be used to bill Medicare fraudulently.

"Medicare scams spike during open enrollment season, with scammers posing as insurance providers offering free gifts or limited time offers."

Be suspicious of anyone who calls, emails or visits you promoting a Medicare plan. Legitimate health plans can only contact you if you’ve requested information or you have an existing relationship with them. Avoid giving personal information to anyone who calls or visits out of the blue, and always review your Medicare or Explanation of Benefits statement to ensure fraudulent charges aren’t included.

Mail Theft on the Rise

Scams aren’t always high tech – some of the most common are about as old fashioned as they come. In 2021 there were 33,000 reports of incidents involving mail carrier robberies and mail theft, up from 24,000 in 2019, according to the US Postal Inspectors (USPIS). What were the thieves looking for? Personal checks that can be washed and re-written to anyone for any amount.

The simplest way for criminals to find mail to steal is to look for mailboxes with a raised flag, which often contain bill payments with personal checks included. Another way is for criminals to steal a master key that opens the blue boxes from a postal worker. These “arrow keys” sell for between $5,000 and $10,000 on the black market. Once they have a personal check, thieves can “wash” the ink off with household chemicals and fill it out to a new recipient for whatever amount they wish.

To protect yourself, deposit any mail containing checks, cash or sensitive personal information in collection boxes as close to the indicated pickup time as possible — or better yet – bring them inside the post office for mailing.

"Deposit any mail containing checks, cash or sensitive personal information in collection boxes as close to the indicated pickup time as possible — or better yet – bring them inside the post office for mailing."

Be a fraud fighter! If you can spot a scam, you can stop a scam.

The AARP Fraud Watch Network is a free resource for all. Learn how to proactively spot scams or get guidance if you’ve been targeted. Visit www.aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork or call our dedicated helpline to speak to a fraud specialist at 1-877-908-3360.

And make sure to tune into AARP Live on RFD-TV the third Thursday of every month for “Rural America Live – With AARP.”