The availability of the internet and online resources likely made enduring quarantines, lockdowns, and stay-at-home orders more tolerable during this COVID pandemic.

In the cases of working from home or online learning, the internet is indispensable. And many people with much more time on their hands learned about online ways to meet new and interesting people. That scared me. Because the same shifty characters who used online scams and fake accounts before the pandemic didn’t go to ground. Two recent cases reported to me illustrate clearly the hazards of placing too much trust in online friends, especially romantic contacts.

A Charlotte woman reported someone gained access to her online Sam’s Club account, and using the stored credit card information, ordered laptop computers and other electronics, with delivery to a senior apartment complex in Muscatine. Through our investigation, we recovered the laptop and electronics, and a bunch of other merchandise, from the 73-year-old man who lived in this apartment. He told us a woman, living in Africa, whom he met online, said she wanted to marry him. The woman persuaded him to accept “wedding gifts” sent to his apartment, and then re-package them and send them elsewhere. And it turns out all the wedding gifts were bought with stolen credit card accounts.

In the second case, a 32-year-old Clinton woman started corresponding through an online dating website with someone who said they served in the U.S. military. Her soldier boyfriend gained her trust, and started asking for small amounts of money, $20 at a time, placed on gift cards for him.

Then he sent her books of blank checks, showing her with a checking account with a major bank. The boyfriend told her to write herself a check for $4,700, cash it, and send the cash Fedex to an address in Georgia. And she did. Lucky for her, within hours of dropping the Fedex envelope in the box, she developed second thoughts, and asked someone she trusted what they thought. This led to frantic calls to Fedex, who intercepted the parcel and returned the cash. Close call.

Many people use online dating or Facebook to meet new people. Some of them really do want to develop romances. Some just like to flirt, and consider the whole thing as entertainment. It doesn’t matter why you do it, just remember, you really don’t know anything for certain about the other person unless you meet them in person. Anyone you meet online who asks for money, or asks you to handle money, or merchandise, is a crook. You must dump them, and out them, reporting their fake profile to whatever website or social media they used.

FREE CREDIT REPORTS ARE ACCESSIBLE WEEKLY

The three major credit reporting agencies, Experian, Equifax, and Transunion, make a business of compiling credit histories on each and every one of us. Federal law required each credit agency to allow us a free credit report once each year. I always recommend taking advantage of this service. It’s usually pretty painless, and yields almost instantaneous response when done online at www.annualcreditreport.com. This won’t include your credit or FICO score.

In light of the pandemic inspired economic collapse, all three credit reporting agencies are offering weekly credit reports, if you use the online portal. If unemployment or business closing caused your credit to take a tumble, or you are negotiating new payment arrangements, or received forbearances, make sure you check your credit history to ensure its accuracy. Very recent federal legislation requires such accounts to show as current.

Remember these reports are free. You don’t need to subscribe, or provide any credit card information.

NURSING HOMES CAN’T TAKE STIMULUS CHECKS

If you live in a nursing home or assisted living, paid for by Medicare, or are the family of someone who does, you know strict rules exist about what assets a resident can retain to remain eligible. One such asset residents can retain is the economic recovery payments sent out in the last month. That payment does not belong to the nursing home.

The Iowa Attorney General reports receiving complaints of nursing homes or assisted living compelling residents to sign over their checks. That’s wrong. The federal legislation which authorized these payments, the CARES Act, classified the payments as tax credits, which don’t count as “resources” for Medicare, or any other federal benefits calculations.

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 randymeier@gapa911.us

Randy Meier is the director of Seniors vs. Crime, which operates in conjunction with the Clinton County Sheriff’s Office.