ADDISION, Maine — It was a tag team of scam artists, but a 75-year-old woman outfoxed them and closed her bank account before they could take money out for a phony Medicare prescription discount card.
Now she is wondering whether other senior citizens may have received similar telephone calls.
The senior citizen said that around 4: 30 p.m. Saturday, a woman called claiming she was from the Social Security Administration. “She said I was paying out of my Social Security so much a month [for medicine] and that I needed a discount card along with my Medicare and MaineCare,” she said, “that it would be a one-time payment of $349 for life.”
The scam artist had the Addison woman’s bank routing and checking account numbers, her name, address and telephone number. The caller then turned the victim over to a male associate, who also identified himself as being from the government.
He kept pestering her with questions about her personal banking information.
“They were very rude,” she said.
She surmised the scammers were looking for her to give a positive response to their questions so they could tap her account without raising suspicions at the bank.
But the Addison woman turned the table on the male caller and started asking him questions. She said she wondered why the federal agency was calling rather than sending a letter. “Who would call you from the government at 4:30 p.m. on a Saturday night?” she asked.
“He got very agitated,” the senior citizen continued. “He said you only have to pay this $349 once. He said Social Security is taking $93 out of your Social Security every month and after you pay this $349 then you will have a discount medical that will take care of everything along with your Medicare and that I had to have it with my Medicare or it wouldn’t be paid for.”
She continued to question the man, but he persisted. He asked whether she had watched CNN, claiming the new card had been reported on the national news channel. “He said, ‘You won’t get any Medicare with the bank collapse.’ So they was using that, too,” she said, referring to the banking crisis.
The victim said she was able to get off the telephone without confirming any of her personal information, but said she was on “pins and needles” over the weekend waiting for her bank to open. She said she did not know how the couple had her personal information. She said she did not have a computer, nor had she shared her personal information.
But according to the Federal Trade Commission’s 2006 Identity Theft Survey Report, “13 percent of all victims say their information was attained during a transaction — by taking information from a credit card receipt or during a purchase, or through purchases made over the internet, mail or phone. … Others indicated that the thief had obtained their personal information from printed checks or bills or that they had given the information to someone who then used it for another purpose.”
In this particular case FTC media spokeswoman Claudia Bourne Farrell said the FTC had no data as to how prevalent this particular scam may be across the country.
Even before the Machias Savings Bank in Columbia Falls opened on Monday morning, the 75-year-old woman was there. “I got there early so I went around to the [drive-up] window and told them my account had been hacked into and they let me in early and I got my account closed out,” she said. She said bank personnel were wonderful. “I got ahead of them,” she said of the scam artists.
She said her bank official told her that another woman reported having a similar experience. “So I assume it’s happened before,” the victim said.
The western Washington County woman called Medicare and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ office. It was Collins’ office that urged her to call the Federal Trade Commission and a national credit bureau reporting company to place a fraud alert on her account so the scam artists couldn’t do more things to her, such as opening new accounts in her name. She made those calls.
On Thursday morning, the victim said, she received a call from her bank. They told her the scam artists had tried to take $349 out of her closed account. “I asked [the bank personnel] what it was for and the bank said Discount Medical Card,” she said.
Columbia Falls bank personnel referred the Bangor Daily News to their media spokes-woman Tracy Sanborn, who said she was unaware of the scam, but urged people to be careful with their personal information. Donny Reynolds, a media spokesman for Machias Savings Bank, was out of the office Thursday and unavailable for comment.
A woman at the U.S. Attorney’s Office said she was not aware of any similar scams being reported to her office.
David Loughran of the state’s Attorney General’s Office was in a meeting and did not return a telephone call Thursday.