DAVID CITY – The mobile office of the Attorney General was stationed at David City's Senior Services Center on April 12 to spread awareness about ongoing scams in Nebraska and ways to combat identity theft.
“We are bringing the resources of our office from the capital into communities,” said Ryan Sothan, outreach coordinator for consumer protection and anti-trust division for the Office of the Attorney General. “Our desire is to connect people to our office and to their state government in ways that have meaning to them. What we have discovered is that it especially critical to be in the communities to address our most vulnerable population, which is our seniors.”
Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson was unable to attend the pop-up due to a family emergency. Director of constituent services Jennifer Brehm and Sothan were able to continue the operations.
The mobile office operated from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Approximately 35 percent of complaints received by the office were made by senior citizens, however, they are not even 19 percent of the state’s population, Sathon said.
“So that’s a very disproportionate ratio of complaints to representativeness in the population that tells us something’s going on,” he said.
Seniors were often times the target for imposter scams and were preyed on through landlines. They are also the least likely population to file a report, Sathon said.
The two most common scams addressed Thursday, April 12, were from Window’s Technical Support and threats by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for past due tax obligations.
These are called impostor scams and are the number one reported scam in Nebraska, he said.
The scammers provide offers that are too good to be true and are too compelling to ignore, followed by the urgency to make payment.
Sathon addressed cases where grandparents would receive calls from imposters pretending to be their grandparents asking for financial aid. These scams play with people’s fears and emotions. People who were being preyed upon would choose to help first and rationalize the situation later to secure the safety of their supposed grandchild.
He highlighted that the number two most reported scam is identity theft.
Seniors who carry their Medicare cards with them are at risk because it displays their Social Security numbers. Medicare is working on reissuing cards this year to improve user protection and replace the numbers with Medicare Beneficiary Identifiers (MBI) that are alphanumeric. These cards will be mailed directly to its users.
Sathon advised seniors to be wary of scammers trying to call in regard to the new card.
“You will only hear about this in the mail, not by phone, not by social media, not my text messaging,” he said. “You need not verify or confirm a thing and you need not pay.”
Due to the Equifax data breach in 2017, people are eight times more likely to have their identities stolen. Equifax is one of the largest credit-reporting bureaus.
Sathon hopes to make people aware of the situation and urges them to check their identity vulnerabilities on EquifaxSecurity2017.com.
People who have a higher risk are advised to apply for a security freeze to avoid scammers from using personal information to apply for debit and credit cards. It is $9 to freeze one’s credit.
Through LB 757 – which is a consumer law – applications for security freezes will be free after July. People can lift and freeze their credit at any time.
“So how do you block the scammers?” Sathon said. “Unfortunately, there is no one silver bullet that’s going to do that but there are definitely things that we can do.”
He advised people to register their numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry, however, just doing so is not enough. The registry only stops law-abiding telemarketers but there is no defense against criminally-intent scammers.
On top of that, landline providers have available services to block calls and prevent scams. Smartphones also have applications to block scammers and include them on the office’s database.
“We are a source that you can come to report because we can help stage financial recoveries and refer you to resources for emotional recoveries,” Sothan said.
More information about scams, identity theft and how to reporter them, visit protectthegoodlife.nebraska.gov.