Scammers have gone high-tech, experts warn

For tech-savvy fraudsters, Alaskans’ Permanent Fund dividends are like beacons, said Scott Sterling of the state Office of Elder Fraud and Assistance. Sterling was one of several speakers at a Sept. 20 resource fair for vulnerable adults at the Anchorage Senior Activities Center, organized by the state Adult Protective Services. Sterling and investigators with the state Medicaid Fraud Control Unit gave tips on stopping scammers, and reported successes in apprehending them.

“It’s faster and cheaper for crooks to use the Internet” than mail or going door-to-door, Sterling said. Scammers will review data available online and choose targets down to the household, he said. “Oh, there’s two retirees with state benefits in this household, we’ll hit that one.”

With new phone technology, the scammers can make “Anchorage FBI” show up on the caller ID window of a phone, Sterling said, and introduce themselves by saying, ‘This is the FBI. We hear you were scammed. Give us your credit card number and we’ll check it out.’

Being rural provides no shelter, Sterling said. Fraud attempts are common in remote communities as well.

You’re going to get hit, Sterling said; the key is how you respond. Hang up or take information from the callers; whatever you do, he advised, don’t give out account information.

For caregivers in the audience, Sterling added that if a loved one continues to give money to a fake “cause” even after having the ruse explained, there may be a medical basis to their behavior.

For all the advances in technology that help fraudsters cast their net farther and wider, the most common source of financial abuse is still by family members and caregivers, Sterling said.

Adult Protective Services can help. Call 269-3666 in Anchorage or 800-478-9996 toll-free statewide to make a confidential report of concern.

If you or someone you know may have been targeted by scammers, call the Office of Elder Fraud and Assistance at 907-334-5989.

“We need input from the community,” stressed Lowell Webb, an investigator with the Alaska Department of Law’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit. The unit’s hotline is 907-269-6279.

It doesn’t matter which agency you call, just call, the speakers said. They cooperate to match their expertise with each case.

When the agencies get tips, they act, said Andrew Peterson, director of the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit. He reported the unit brought charges in 57 cases over the last year.

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