Phone scammer phishes for Social Security, bank account numbers in Kennewick

Tri-City HeraldOctober 14, 2013 

— When Joan Settlemyre’s phone rang at 7:35 a.m. Monday, she answered expecting to hear a neighbor or friend on the other end of the line.

Instead, the caller was notifying Settlemyre she was about to be sent a new Medicare card.

Everything seemed normal to the Kennewick woman until the caller — who had her correct name and address — asked Settlemyre to verify her Social Security number and provide a bank account or card number.

That woke up Settlemyre, and she furiously slammed the phone down without providing any more information.

Most people won’t be fooled, Settlemyre said. But she also knows it only takes a few people to fall prey to these smooth criminals and is warning her fellow Tri-Citians about the latest scam so their accounts won’t be drained.

“We were concerned that somebody might, because he was really smooth about how he flowed from my name to my address, and ‘I need to check your Social Security number,’ like he already knew it and was checking it,” said Settlemyre, whose husband encouraged her to alert the Herald. “I may be sleepy, but I’m not stupid.”

Settlemyre said she’s had a Medicare card for several years and thinks the scammer is trying to target elderly people — though she doesn’t consider herself that.

The young man sounded very pleasant on the phone. He had a foreign-sounding accent which briefly confused Settlemyre, and then she thought maybe the federal government had outsourced the health insurance program’s customer service because of the shutdown.

Settlemyre realized she was talking to a “creep” when he asked for her personal data.

Mike Blatman, Kennewick police crime prevention specialist, said every single day there are new and different variations to the exact same scam, and it is impossible to track them all. The common denominator is they’re trying to access information on bank accounts or credit cards.

Earlier this month, Kennewick police reported that a 70-year-old woman was scammed out of “several tens of thousands of dollars” in just a few days. First she was told she won $1 million and a new Mercedes through a Publisher’s Clearing House drawing, but needed to make payments to cash in and was instructed to buy prepaid debit cards and to wire money to a bank account. And second, a caller told her to send a $10,000 money order to a Connecticut man because that amount was owed to the IRS.

Scammers will play on the fact that there is very little law enforcement can do to track them down because it is so easy to spoof phone numbers these days, so a person thinks the call originated in one location when it was made from somewhere else in the country or the world.

Blatman said criminals already have started a scam relating to the Affordable Care Act, and noted that Social Security and lotteries are regular targets. He said he hadn’t heard the specific one like Settlemyre got Monday.

“First of all, nobody is going to call you from Medicaid or Medicare to say that you are getting a new card. It doesn’t make sense,” he told the Herald. “The bottom line is nobody, no institution, that is legitimate is going to call you to confirm account information or ask for account information.”

If you didn’t originate the phone call, then don’t provide the information, Blatman said. And you can only win a sweepstakes if you first entered or registered for it.

Statistically, more scam victims are under the age of 25 — and not the elderly — because they want to believe that they can get something for nothing, Blatman said.

“It takes just a little bit of thinking it through before you provide that information,” he said.

Anyone who wants to report scams can contact Tri-Cities Crime Stoppers at 509-586-8477, 800-222-8477 or go to www.tricitiescrimestoppers.org.

-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 582-1531; kkraemer@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @KristinMKraemer

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