July 27, 2019 — Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum visited Florence briefly on Tuesday, speaking to a small group of seniors at the Florence Events Center about the ever-present danger of fraud and scams.
Representatives from the American Association for Retired Persons (AARP) and the Florence Police Department were also in attendance and made short presentations supporting the warnings given by the AG.
The event was billed as a “Scam Jam” and was one of a number of public forums the attorney general is holding across the state to address primarily phone-based attempts at fraud. These informational workshops are designed to provide suggestions and strategies to seniors and others about the techniques used by criminals to separate unsuspecting individuals from their money.
The Financial Fraud Section of the Oregon Department of Justice (ODJ) has recently released a statewide Scam Alert, warning residents of a new scam related to genetic testing.
The increasing interest in exploring individual ancestry and in searching for possible genetic problems has brought this issue to the ODJ’s attention. Unfortunately, when there is a new way for criminals to steal from people, they will try to do so.
Kristina Edmunson, communications director for the Office of the Attorney General, said, “We have a new scam alert we want people to know about that is related to genetic testing. We have received reports from consumers that scammers are setting up tables at county fairs and other public events and offering free cheek swabs for genetic testing. They are soliciting data at these types of public events that they can use to scam individuals and Medicare.”
Edmunson was a participant in this year’s Scam Jam, which has taken on a slightly different form than in previous years.
“It’s been a few years since we have been in Florence and we wanted to hear from folks on the coast on what types of scamming experiences they have had. We thought it would be fun to hit the coast, so we are holding workshops in four cities on the coast in four days,” she said.
According to the alert, the ODJ reports numerous complaints asking for Medicare beneficiaries’ private information in order to report the genetic test results. The scammers then use the information to steal the individual’s identity or for fraudulent billing purposes. The possible misuse of personal information of Oregonians could result in thousands of dollars spent needlessly for unnecessary tests or services never requested or delivered.
AARP was also part of the Scam Jam, and Carmel Snyder, director of advocacy and outreach for AARP in Eugene, spoke at length about the problem of fraud directed at older residents.
“We have been doing these types of events all over the state for the past few years and we know that the coast has a large older population, which is the main target of scammers,” Snyder said. “Scammers are everywhere and we need to get everyone that we can involved in getting the information out to the public. These people are professionals and they have a lot of time to work this type of scam, where they intimidate and even threaten potential victims.”
The number of reports made to the ODJ in 2018 by residents who were concerned they had been the victim of a scam, or had questions related to that fear, was more than 38,000.
Of these more than 1,000 calls a day, 7,000 were documented and referred for further investigation by the Financial Fraud and Consumer Protection section of the ODJ.
Complaints from consumers over unexpected car repair costs remain high on the list of yearly complaints, as does the gathering of data by what are referred to as “Fraudulent Entity” calls. These calls may claim to be offering free testing to seniors for a number of ailments that are designed to obtain Medicare information. These requests for information should be ignored unless specifically ordered by a personal physician.
Florence Police Commander John Pitcher says his department is well aware of the problem with fraud of this type and was glad the department was able to participate in this year’s Scam Jam.
“We had Sgt. (Denton) Tipler attend and be part of this for us. He participated in the panel at the end of the presentation to answer questions and put a local perspective on this problem,” Pitcher said. “Every year, we have a variety of different types of scams that these people use to target members of our community and unfortunately every year we have a few citizens that fall victim to them. We have had local community members who have lost a few hundred dollars up to several thousands of dollars to these scams.”
The ultimate goal for all of the presenters at the Scam Jam was to inform. All of the groups represented agreed that knowledge is power, especially when it comes to safeguarding the financial assets of seniors, who often live on a fixed income.
The ODJ and AARP have some very simple instructions for seniors that are contacted on the phone by someone they do not know soliciting information, money, passwords, account numbers or to download software — “Just hang up!”
Pitcher also has some important advice for anyone concerned with a call or some other form of unsolicited contact.
“We want to protect our citizens and encourage people to either call us or come in and talk to us before sending money in any form to anyone they have questions about. No legitimate business, organization or agency is going to demand payment by phone, email or mail that you can’t easily verify who they are with just a little follow up,” Pitcher said. “Any deal that sounds too good to be true is.
“Take a little time before you act, do a little investigating and protect your hard-earned money.”
For more information, visit www.doj.state.or.us/consumer-protection/.