The national statistics on frauds and scams tell us that about 75 percent of fraud victims report the crooks got hold of their victims through use of the telephone, and about another 14 percent reached their victims through use of the internet in some fashion. The remaining 10 percent or so of victims fell for scams pitched through the mail, in person, or some other means. But these statistics may not reflect how some scammers work — they use telephone cold calls or ads to generate “leads.” The leads are pursued by a sales force in the field which visits people in their homes, to conclude the deal.
In December 2017, I received three different reports of this kind of “marketing.” Each report highlighted a different approach these solicitors used, but taken as a whole, they teach us some lessons on what visitors we should let in our homes. Here’s the background stories:
A Clinton man, we’ll call him Joseph, a long-time civic leader, received a phone call toward the end of the Medicare open enrollment period. The caller wanted to discuss “the huge changes coming with Medicare” and how they affected Joseph’s Medicare supplement. The caller pressured Joseph into agreeing to an appointment at Joseph’s house. Before the appointment, Joseph called me to get my opinion. Judging by the nature of the conversation, I figured this caller wanted to sell insurance. Medicare rules prohibit insurance agents from making cold calls to seniors to try to sell their products. The rule exists for this very reason, to keep sales people from pressuring seniors into coverage. The fact the caller tried to scare Joseph, talking about “huge changes,” only made us more wary. In the end, Joseph called and cancelled the appointment.
A Clinton woman, let’s refer to her as Lorraine, called to tell me she received a phone call from a woman claiming to work for a “health company.” The woman asked if Lorraine ever got a bone density scan. Lorraine never did. The caller talked up the benefits and necessity of such a test until Lorraine agreed to it, and told Lorraine to expect a technician within a couple of hours. As soon as she hung up, Lorraine regretted accepting this offer. When someone showed up at her door two hours later wearing green scrubs, Lorraine called the Clinton Police Department, which responded and identified the visitor. He said he worked for a company in Santa Ana, California, which did bone density scans in people’s homes. At Lorraine’s request, the police sent the man on his way. He said he planned to be in the area “a couple more days” administering these tests. This sounds like a method to generate a medical claim to Medicare to me. I’m still researching how ethical or legal this kind of telemarketing is, but it smells to me.
Another Clinton woman, Lynn, lost her husband in 2016. A postcard she received in the mail drew her attention. The card offered information on reducing burial expenses. Lynn sent for more information. Several weeks later she received a visit from two men, who showed her the card she returned. She invited them in. They said they worked for a non-profit. They never mentioned the burial information again. Instead, they questioned Rose about her financial situation, her investments, and insurance. Rose revealed her entire stock portfolio and personal information to these visitors. They reviewed it quite closely, and copied much information down. They made vague assurances about their ability to improve Lynn’s financial and insurance situation, and left. That was in November 2017. Since then, Lynn received one voice mail from this non-profit, with more vague promises. She is now terrified complete strangers know everything about her investments. Although one of these visitors left a business card, it’s proving elusive to figure out exactly who they are.
What are the big lessons? Be very wary of a telemarketer who wants to follow up with a home visit. If you do agree to a visit, take the time beforehand to thoroughly investigate the offer. Don’t be afraid to cancel. It’s much easier to say no on the phone than it is to get someone out of your house that is intent on making a sale.
Realize that the telemarketing of medical devices and tests is quite commonplace, and is really just an opening to file a Medicare claim, or get your credit card number, or both. If you think you need some medical aid, confer with your own doctor.
And you should know, if you respond to an ad asking for more information, it may come to you in the form of folks knocking on your door. If you truly want information, ask for literature to get mailed to you first. Again, it is much easier to read something deliberately and thoroughly than to entertain strangers who show up with questionable motives.
CONTACT SENIORS VS. CRIME
Let me know about scams, fraud, or other crookedness you run across. Most of what I learn, I learn from you. Contact me at Seniors vs. Crime, Clinton County Sheriff’s Office, 242-9211, Ext. 4433, or email me at email@example.com.
Randy Meier is the director of Seniors vs. Crime, which operates in conjunction with the Clinton County Sheriff’s Office.