2 This Orange County Fraud Prevention Resource Guide was designed to help you learn how to protect yourself from scams, fraud, and deceptive practices before they happen. It also contains information on local, state, and national resources available to anyone who suspects fraud has occurred. Fraud and Its Impact What is Fraud? Fraud occurs when someone uses deceit, trickery, or betrayal to steal your money, property, or belongings. Why do you need to know how to protect yourself from fraud? Today, more than ever before, fraud is making the headlines as a growing problem across the United States. Fraud is a particular concern to elders, who are often retired and cannot easily return to work to rebuild their bank accounts. Table of Contents Fraud and Its Impact Page 2 Prevent Fraud BEFORE It Occurs Pages 3 5 General Tips Page 3 Check Your Credit Report for Free Page 3 Consider Freezing Your Credit Page 4 Fraud Complaints by Method of Contact Page 4 Register for National & State Do Not Call Lists Page 5 Check if a Company is Licensed, Registered, Page 5 Bonded, and/or Insured Opt-Outs Page 5 What to Do if You Think You are a Victim of Fraud Page 6 Create a Consumer Incident Log Page 6 Definitions of Common Types of Fraud Page 7 Local & State Fraud Resources Pages 8 9 Federal Fraud Resources Page 10 National Nonprofits Page 11 Computer & Online Security Tips Page 12 Financial Exploitation of the Elderly Page 13 Top Scams Targeting Seniors Page 13 By the Numbers: Fraud Complaints in the U.S. Page 14 Acknowledgements Page 15 Recent Cases of Fraud in Central Florida Page 16 Fraud Prevention Resource Guide: 3 rd edition, published February
3 Prevent Fraud BEFORE It Occurs General Tips Don t let yourself be pushed into making an immediate payment or donation. Always request written information or quotes. Don t do anything if you have any questions or doubts. Ask to see proof that an individual or company is licensed, registered, bonded, and/or insured (details on page 5). Don t provide personal financial information to anyone unless you initiated the contact. If a company or business contacts you about your account or purchase, do not provide personal account information. Hang up and search for the company s contact information, then initiate the call from your end. Beware of testimonials or references you cannot independently verify. Although it sounds official when a company s name includes National Organization of or U.S. Office of, it does not guarantee the company is part of the federal government. Check Your Credit Report for Free Checking your credit report at least once a year is a great way to ensure your identity has not been compromised. The federal government s established website, allows you to obtain a free copy of your credit report once every twelve months from each of the nationwide consumer credit reporting companies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. This credit report is also called a credit file disclosure. It is important to know that will not approach consumers via , telemarketing, or direct mail solicitations. Visit or call HELPFUL TIP: You can further protect yourself by scheduling these credit checks every four months, and only requesting a credit report from ONE of the companies at a time. If you re approached by an unfamiliar charity, call the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services. For national charities, you can also contact the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance at or visit WARNING: As a security precaution, never provide your personal information to a company or person that comes to you offering a free annual credit report under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act (FACTA). 3
4 Consider Freezing Your Credit Freezing your credit report prevents lenders and other companies from accessing your credit report or credit score without your expressed written permission. This freeze can help stop identity thieves from taking out credit in your name. Florida Statute governs the structure of credit freezes in Florida, including the costs to freeze credit, temporarily lift credit to pull your credit score, or report or permanently remove the freeze. These fees are waived for people age 65 and over, or victims of identity theft that have documentation stating such from a law enforcement agency. Concerned family members discovered their father had been contacted by scammers claiming he had won several millions of dollars in prize money. The man was told to send money for duties, transfer fees, taxes, and other expenses. He sent nearly $9,000 via money transfer services and cash reload cards, so there was no way for him to get the funds back. TIP: It s illegal for companies to ask you to pay a fee or buy anything in order to win or claim a prize and it s a sure sign of fraud. For more information on freezing your credit in Florida, visit the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services at and search for security freeze. TO FREEZE YOUR CREDIT You must contact EACH of the three credit reporting agencies: Experian or call Exquifax or call TransUnion and search for credit freeze or call Fraud Complaints by Method of Contact Phone Internet Other Mail 7% 5% 15% 33% 40% Data supplied by the Federal Trade Commission s Consumer Sentinel Network report on fraud complaints for the 2013 calendar year. Report was released February Visit 4
5 Register for National & State Do Not Call Lists Do Not Call lists were created to give consumers the opportunity to opt-out of receiving sales solicitations via the telephone. Both the Federal Government and State of Florida maintain separate Do Not Call lists. For maximum protection, consider registering with both lists. NATIONAL DO NOT CALL REGISTRY The National Do Not Call Registry, in general, applies to all telemarketers and covers both interstate and intrastate telemarketing calls. It is FREE to register your phone number(s). This registry is a partnership of the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Register online at or call You must call from the phone number you wish to register. FLORIDA DO NOT CALL PROGRAM Florida residents who do not wish to receive sales calls (that originate in Florida) may have their personal telephone number(s) included on this list. Business numbers may not be included. Register online at and search for Florida Do Not Call or call 800-HELP-FLA ( ). Check if a Company is Licensed, Registered, Bonded, and/or Insured The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation licenses and regulates businesses and professionals in the State of Florida. Visit to verify a license or call Whenever you hire/contract a company or individual to conduct work on your behalf, ask to see a copy of their current state license or business tax receipt (occupational license). Also, if a company is bonded, ask for proof. NOTE: The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration regulates medical professionals, medical and residential care facilities, and medical equipment. To access their online database, visit or call Tired of Junk Mail? Opt-Out of Prescreened Offers of Credit & Insurance Opt-out for five years Call toll-free OPT-OUT ( ) or visit www. optoutprescreen.com. Opt-out permanently Begin the process online at www. optoutprescreen.com. To complete your request, you must return the signed Permanent Opt-Out Election form, which will be provided after you initiate your online request. This service is operated by major consumer reporting companies. Opt-Out of Other Direct Marketing Mail Register with the Direct Marketing Associations website to manage the types of unsolicited commercial mail you would like to receive. You may also opt-out completely. 5
6 What to Do if You Think You Are a Victim of Fraud A retired couple purchased a refrigerator with a bottom freezer for $2,000. A block of ice kept forming in the freezer, making it hard to shut the door. Other problems started cropping up, like a leak in the insulation. After seven service calls, the couple became frustrated and demanded their money back or a replacement. Their complaints were ignored. SOLUTION: Call the Orange County Consumer Fraud Office or Florida Seniors vs. Crime for assistance with this type of civil matter (see page 8). Sometimes, no amount of due diligence can protect you from falling victim to a scam. If you feel you are a victim of fraud, your first call should be to your local law enforcement office. In addition to filing a police report, they can direct you to other agencies that may be helpful. This Fraud Prevention Resource Guide also lists many of the local, state, and national government organizations involved in investigating and responding to reported cases of fraud (see pages 8 9). CENTRAL FLORIDA LAW ENFORCEMENT NON-EMERGENCY INFORMATION Orange County Sheriff s Office Osceola County Sheriff s Office Seminole County Sheriff s Office Create a Consumer Incident Log It is important to keep a detailed log of any consumer complaint or concern you may have related to identity theft, fraud, or other financial exploitation. Keep a logbook to track your actions, the response or actions from any business involved, and the status of any complaints filed with federal, state, and local organizations. INFORMATION SHOULD INCLUDE: Details of the complaint, fraud, or identity theft: Today s date and time: Phone number and/or website: Reference number (if applicable): Agency contacted: Person(s) you spoke with: Action and/or recommendation: If referred to another organization, name of the organization and contact information: Your actions as a result of the above recommendation or action: Any follow-up with a business or organization: 6
7 Complaint Category Advanced Fee Auto Sales/Rental Repair/Towing Bereavement Charities Collection Practices (including loans & credit) Consumer Services Cramming Employment Services Employment Work at Home Healthcare Healthcare Medicare Home Improvement Identity Theft Merchandise Sales Pyramid Schemes Real Estate Real Estate Landlord/Tenant Telemarketing/ Sweepstakes Travel Services Definitions of Common Types of Fraud When you pay money to someone in advance with the anticipation of receiving something in the future (loan, investment, goods, or services) and then receive little or nothing in return. Auto misrepresentations can include advertising or sale of new or used cars, lemons, faulty repairs, leasing, and towing disputes. Bereavement fraud happens when someone claims a deceased family member incurred a debt or purchase that did not occur. The surviving family members often pay this debt without validating its authenticity. A charitable organization is a non-profit organization that focuses on philanthropic goals that benefit the public interest or common good. Not all charities are properly licensed or legitimate. False collection practices can include billing and fee disputes, mortgage-related fraud, credit repair, debt relief services, predatory lending, and illegal or abusive debt collection tactics. Services provided to consumers by a company that produces, markets, or supports a product, which may include installation, technical support, and other services regulated by the state. Any misrepresentation made to a consumer by a service provider may be a violation of the law. Cramming involves adding unauthorized/nonexistent fees to a bill (e.g. phone bill, bank account, or other account). Deceptive employment practices can include scams or work opportunities that require the purchase of materials upfront or contracts that require large up-front fees without exit clauses. Promises of a big income for working from home, especially when the opportunity involves an up-front fee or divulging your credit card information. These are often indicative of a scam. Common types of healthcare fraud include billing for services not rendered, duplicate claims, excessive services, medically unnecessary services, and kickbacks. Medicare fraud happens when Medicare is billed for services or supplies not received. In Florida, many home improvements are regulated by the state. Home improvement fraud can include shoddy work, failure to start or complete the job, over-charging beyond an estimate, related home damage not paid for, work without permits or licenses. Identity theft involves stealing your identity usually name, Social Security number, and/or credit card number(s) in order to access resources or obtain credit and other benefits in your name. Merchandise sales fraud can include false advertising and other deceptive practices, defective merchandise, problems with rebates, coupons, gift cards and gift certificates, and failure to deliver. All pyramid schemes have one common characteristic the promise to consumers or investors of large profits based primarily on recruiting others to join their program. Profits are not based on profits from any real investment or real sale of goods to the public. Real estate fraud can include foreclosure bailouts and housing rescues, reverse-mortgage fraud, home equity fraud, home renovation scams, rental scams, and deceptive timeshare practices. The victim can be either a landlord or tenant and can include unhealthy or unsafe living conditions, failure to make repairs or provide promised amenities, deposit or rent disputes, or illegal eviction tactics. Telephones and direct mail can be used to commit many different types of fraud including sweepstakes and lottery fraud, loan fraud, and credit card scams. Fraud in the travel industry can include deceptive pricing, deceptions in timeshare selling or reselling, and promises that becoming a travel agent will result in free travel. 7
8 Local & State Fraud Resources Agency & Phone LOCAL 18th Judicial Circuit Court Elder and Economic Crimes Division Florida Department of Financial Services Division of Insurance Fraud Florida Senior Medicare Patrol Florida Medicare Hotline (search fraud ) 8 Speaker Presentations? Yes Better Business Bureau of Central Florida Yes Orange County Consumer Fraud Unit Orange County Sheriff s Office Senior Programs (search for senior programs ) Seminole County Triad STATE Florida Attorney General s Office or Florida Seniors vs. Crime Orange County Seminole County Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No No Area of Expertise This unit addresses crimes against the elderly, such as identity theft, fraud, and other comple under the jurisdiction of the 18 th Judicial Circu Seminole and Brevard counties. Provides reports on a business background an history. Reports are offered and complaints ac accredited and non-accredited, at no cost to th Mediates and investigates consumer complain County. Enforces compliance with Orange Cou and non-consent towing ordinances. Provides Office supervised by the State Attorney s Offic Assists elders and vulnerable adults within Ora coordination of the Elder Intervention Team. P on crime prevention. Assists elders and vulnerable adults within Sem coordination of the Elder Intervention Team. Investigates businesses or individuals engagin misleading business practices, false advertisin Florida Statutes related to most consumer frau Senior sleuth volunteers help educate the pub Volunteers also provide assistance with civil co provided there has not been an attorney retain filed in Small Claims court. Program of the Flo Acts as Florida s clearinghouse for consumer co and information. Conducts investigations of un practices. Licenses and regulates a diverse group of busi including real estate agents, Certified Public A electrical contractors, cosmetologists, and vete Investigates all types of insurance fraud, includ homeowner s insurance, car insurance, person insurance, and worker s compensation. The State of Florida s dedicated hotline if you a a physician, provider or supplier in Florida and fraudulent.
9 as well as economic crimes, x financial crimes that occur it Court. Serves residents of Advance Fee Auto Sales/Rental Repair/ Towing Bereavement Charities Collection Practices (including loans & credit) Consumer Services Cramming Employment Services Employment Work at Home Healthcare Healthcare Medicare Home Improvement Identity Theft Merchandise Sales Pyramid Schemes Real Estate (See definitions of the above listed types of fraud on page 7.) Real Estate Landlord/Tenant Telemarketing / Sweepstakes Travel Services d consumer complaint cepted for all businesses, e consumer. ts that originate in Orange nty s unlicensed contractor presentations to the public. e 9 th Judicial Circuit. nge County through rovides educational seminars inole County through g in deceptive and g, and violations of the d issues. lic about scams and fraud. mplaints, at no charge, ed, or a case has not been rida Attorney General. mplaints, protection, fair and deceptive trade nesses and professions, ccountants, construction and rinarians. ing fraud related to al injury protection, health re charged for a service from believe that the charge is 9
10 Federal Fraud Resources There are many federal agencies and national non-profits that have beneficial resources to help consumers with fraud, exploitation, and identity theft concerns. These are in addition to the local and state resources listed on pages 8 9. Agency & Phone Area of Expertise Government Made Easy (search consumer fraud ) Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Federal Trade Commission (FTC) (877-FTC-HELP) (877-IDTHEFT) Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Acts as the U.S. government's official web portal and contains an inventory of U.S. government programs, departments, and agencies. Processes complaints about fraudulent activity involving a bank account or service, credit reporting, debt collection, and other financial products or services. Focuses on preventing business practices that are deceptive or unfair to consumers. Investigates reported cases of identity theft including those that involve using someone else s Social Security number to obtain credit, loans, telephone accounts, or other goods and services. Accepts online Internet crime complaints from either actual victims or from a third party to the complainant. Provides information on types of tax fraud and scams to avoid, as well as how to report these activities. National Center on Elder Abuse / Administration on Aging (AOA) National Institute on Aging elder-abuse On Guard Online Securities & Exchange Commission or Social Security Administration U.S. Postal Inspection Service https://postalinspectors.uspis.gov Provides information on research, training, best practices, news and resources on elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation. Provides resource information on health and aging. This agency also hosts a web page devoted to the topic of elder abuse. This free blog helps consumers learn about new scams and studies, and provides tips on how to stay smart online. ed to subscribers, it offers tips for being on guard against Internet fraud, securing your computer, and protecting personal information. Allows consumers to research investment advisors and investment products. The Office of the Inspector General investigates suspected cases of fraud that involve the misuse of Social Security benefits. Postal Inspectors may investigate any crime in which the U.S. mail is used to further a scheme whether it originates in the mail, by telephone, or on the Internet. 10
11 National Nonprofits Agency & Phone Area of Expertise AARP (888-OUR-AARP) Hosts a web page that includes information about identity theft, investment fraud, and the latest scams through an interactive map tool. AARP Fraud Fighter Call Center Volunteer Fraud Fighters offer peer counseling, support, and referral services to fraud victims and their family members. FINRA Investor Education Foundation (Office of Financial Regulation) ID Theft Protection (Consumer Federation of America) National Adult Protective Services Association (search for APS map) National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) National Center for Victims of Crime National Council on Aging (NCOA) elder-justice (Elder Care Locater) National Crime Victim Bar Association Focuses on investment fraud and allows consumers to check to see if a broker or particular investment advisor is registered. Helps people learn how to reduce the chances of becoming a victim, detect identity theft quickly if it does happen, and deal with the consequences. Links consumers to the each state s adult protective services units. Houses the National Adult Protective Services Resource Center. Links consumers to the state insurance agencies that regulate insurance products and salespersons. Advocates for victims of all types of crime and for the people who serve them. Connects victims of crime to a variety of available resources. Specializes in areas of victimization and jurisdictions throughout the nation. A service and advocacy organization representing older adults and the community organizations that serve them. The Elder Justice program of the NCOA focuses on education and community outreach on the topic of elder abuse. As an affiliate and program of the National Center for Victims of Crime, this national association of attorneys and expert witnesses is dedicated to helping victims seek justice through the civil court system. 11
12 Computer & Online SECURITY TIPS Keep personal info personal Be cautious about how much personal information you provide online via the Internet, , or on social networking sites. The more information you provide, the easier it may be for a hacker or someone else to use that information to steal your identity, access your data, or commit other crimes such as stalking. Unique account, unique password Different passwords for every account helps thwart cyber criminals. Make passwords long and strong Combine upper and lower case letters with numbers and symbols to create more secure passwords. Own your online presence When applicable, set the privacy and security settings on websites to your comfort level for information sharing. It s okay to limit how you share information. Be selective about who you accept as a friend on a social network Identity thieves might create fake profiles in order to get information from you. When in doubt, throw it out Links in , tweets, posts, and online advertising are often the way cyber criminals compromise your computer. If it looks suspicious, even if you know the source, it s best to delete or, if appropriate, mark as junk . Don't trust that a message is really from who it says it's from Hackers can break into accounts and send messages that look like they're from your friends, but aren't. If you suspect that a message is fraudulent, use an alternate method to contact your friend to find out. This includes invitations to join new social networks. Privacy and security settings exist for a reason Learn about and use the privacy and security settings on social networks. They are there to help you control who sees what you post and manage your online experience in a positive way. Keep a clean machine Having the latest security software, web browser, and operating system are the best defenses against viruses, malware, and other online threats. Be careful about installing extras on your site Many social networking sites allow you to download 3rd party applications that let you do more with your personal page. Criminals sometimes use these applications to steal your personal information. To download and use 3rd party applications safely, take the same safety precautions that you take with any other program you download from the web.
13 Financial Exploitation of the Elderly Florida Statutes define financial exploitation as the illegal taking, misuse, or concealment of funds, property, or assets of a senior for someone else s benefit. It can include forgery, misappropriation of cash or assets, abuse of joint accounts, or abuse of a power of attorney. Financial exploitation of an elder can occur: without the elder s knowledge by trickery, intimidation, or coercion when the elder is too confused to give informed consent Signs of financial exploitation may include disparity between income and assets, unexplained or sudden inability to pay bills, inaccurate or no knowledge of finances, fear or anxiety when discussing finances, or unprecedented transfer of assets to others. HOW TO REPORT ABUSE, NEGLECT OR EXPLOITATION To report suspected cases of elder abuse, contact the Florida Abuse Hotline at ( ABUSE) or visit https://reportabuse.dcf.state.fl.us. When calling this hotline, you can elect to remain anonymous. Top Scams Targeting Seniors Health Care/Medicare/Health Insurance Fraud Counterfeit Prescription Drugs Funeral and Cemetery Scams Fraudulent Anti-Aging Products Telemarketing Internet Fraud Investment Schemes Homeowner/Reverse Mortgage Scams Sweepstakes and Lottery Scams Information provided by the National Council on Aging (NCOA). Learn more at You receive an offering to help you consolidate your debts. The offer looks real, but subsequent s quickly ask for personal financial information such as your Social Security number and bank account numbers AND you are asked for money to cover processing fees. SOLUTION: Always investigate first and never provide personal or financial information to unsolicited businesses. Consider checking out the company with the Better Business Bureau (see page 8). 13
14 BY THE NUMBERS: FRAUD COMPLAINTS IN THE U.S. When a creditor calls you out of the blue, ask specifically what debt they are trying to collect, on whose behalf, and what the delivery date was for services provided. Also, get details about interest or other penalties. If the representative balks, it s probably a scam. TIP: Contact your lender or financial institution by using a local phone listing and not the number provided by the caller. Ask for details % of fraud complaints in the U.S. are for identity theft The highest ranked category! Miami Metropolitan Area ranks 1 st in the nation for identity theft related complaints. 11 th Orlando Metropolitan Area s national ranking for identity related complaints. #1 Florida is the state in the U.S. for fraud and identity theft complaints. 18! The number of Florida cities listed in the top 50 U.S. cities for identity theft complaints. 10% of fraud complaints in the U.S. are for debt collection. Data supplied by the Federal Trade Commission s Consumer Sentinel Network report on fraud complaints for the 2013 calendar year. Report was released February Visit
15 Acknowledgements This 3 rd edition of the Fraud Prevention Resource Guide was published by the Orange County Commission on Aging in February Phone: Web: Thank you to the following organizations for their participation in the development of this Fraud Prevention Resource Guide: Florida Department of Children and Families - Adult Protective Services: Florida Attorney General s Office: Orange County Consumer Fraud: Orange County Sheriff s Office: Seminole County Triad / Sheriff s Office: Seniors vs. Crime - Orlando Office: A contractor offers to do cheap home repairs for you using leftover supplies. TIP: Always ask for a written, binding estimate up front. Never pay a large deposit or the entire amount up front. Also, ask for the contractor s license number and research it by calling the Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation at or visiting www. myfloridalicense.com. 15
16 Recent Cases of Fraud in Central Florida In February 2011, an 87-yearold woman paid an unlicensed contractor $6,552 to install an air conditioning unit in her Orange County home. The unlicensed contractor never installed the unit nor refunded the money. After an investigation by Orange County Consumer Fraud, charges were filed and the defendant pled guilty to Exploitation of Elderly and Unlawful Contracting by a Repeat Offender. In April 2014, a Central Florida retired couple received a VERY URGENT!!! from what appeared to be a relative s address. The sender asked for $2,600 to be wired to her immediately as she was stranded in a foreign country after Our bags were stolen, along with our phones and credit cards, she explained. Suspecting foul play, they phoned the relative associated with this and confirmed the message was not from her and was an scam. A 71-year-old man with serious car problems had his engine replaced in October That engine soon failed and the repair shop replaced his engine again. He continued to have car problems that the shop was unable to fix. Orange County Consumer Fraud arranged for the shop to replace the engine once more, and the man reported he was happy with the new engine. A retired Orlando couple was targeted in May 2014 by salespeople falsely claiming that it was time to upgrade their alarm system. After a technician ripped out their old system, and installed a new one, they discovered it was a different company. Although the new company assured them their old contract would be cancelled, they began to receive two bills for monitoring one from their old company, the other from the new one. Orange County Consumer Fraud Unit successfully had the new system removed and contract cancelled. The old security system was restored.