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Taking Charge: Be aware, be alert, don’t get scammed

Q: I am a widow who lives in Westerly. Recently, I received a call from someone who claimed to be from Social Security. The caller claimed that Social Security was updating its records and needed to verify my Social Security number. Without thinking, I gave the caller my information. Almost immediately, I realized that I had made a mistake, but the caller had already hung up. A few of my neighbors have received similar calls. I’m sure that I have been scammed. What do I do now?

A: It’s not uncommon for scam artists to make calls claiming to be government officials. Many times, they catch victims off-guard and obtain valuable personal information that can be used to access bank accounts or credit cards, apply for loans, or even file fraudulent disability claims.

To protect your financial accounts, identity and credit records, you should notify your bank and credit card companies immediately. It’s probably a good idea to cancel your credit card account and get new cards.

Closely monitor your monthly credit card statement. If you notice any unusual activity on your credit card statement, call the three major credit rating services to file a report. The companies include Equifax (fraud hotline: 888-766-0008), Experian (fraud hotline: 888-397-3742), and TransUnion (fraud hotline: 800-680-7289).

Call your bank and change your account numbers. Monitor your Medicare Summary Notice (a summary of all Medicare claims and payments made using your Medicare number) for any unusual activity, such as billing for medical services that you did not receive, or durable medical equipment that you did not order. Notify the Social Security Administration (800-772-1213) and also file a report with your local police department and the Consumer Affairs Unit of the Rhode Island Attorney General’s Office at (401) 274-4400.

While these steps might seem to be a lot of work, they will protect your money and your identity.

You may also help someone to avoid being victimized by the same scam. Silence is the ally of the scam artist.

As a general rule, don’t give out personal information such as Social Security or Medicare numbers, bank account numbers, credit card numbers, or even your birthday over the telephone.

Provide these numbers only when you are absolutely certain that they are needed by reputable health care professionals or other organizations. Don’t carry your Social Security, Medicare, or health insurance cards in your wallet or purse.

When dealing with potential scams, be aware that Medicare and Social Security do not solicit information over the telephone, nor do they go door-to-door collecting information. If someone claims to be from a government agency, get their name and ask for a number that you can call back to verify their identity. Ask the caller to send their request to you in writing.

The Social Security scam is not the only official-sounding scam making the rounds. The Treasury inspector general for Tax Administration (TIGTA) has warned consumers that individuals posing as IRS representatives have been calling people telling them that they owe taxes.

The caller demands that the taxes be paid using a pre-paid debit card or by wire transfer. The individual is threatened with arrest, deportation, or loss of a business or driver’s license if they don’t comply. If you think that you owe federal taxes, call the IRS at (800) 829-1040. To file a complaint with the TIFTA, call (800) 366-4484.

Recently, I had my own experience with a scammer. I received an e-mail from a man in South Africa informing me that I would receive $10 million from the estate of a deceased West African industrialist, surnamed Grimaldi. To collect 50 percent of my “inheritance,” (just 50 percent?), I needed to provide personal and financial information so that the funds could be transferred to my accounts. As much as a $5-million windfall sounded attractive, and it would let me buy my dream house on the Outer Banks in North Carolina, I decided not to provide the information.

Be aware. Be alert. Don’t be a victim.

Clarification: The Taking Charge column on March 17 offered instructions on how to file claims of age discrimination in the workplace. These instructions require additional clarification.

According to the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights (RICHR), the state agency charged with the responsibility of enforcing anti-discrimination laws, any individual who wishes to file a claim of age discrimination alleging a violation of federal anti-discrimination has 300 days from the date that the alleged incident took place to do so. That individual has one year from the date of the alleged incident to file a claim of age discrimination alleging a violation of state law.

Because the RICHR has a Work-Sharing Agreement with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), individuals may file a claim alleging a violation of both federal and state law directly with the RICHR and the RICHR will co-file that case with the EEOC on the individual’s behalf.