Consumer Protection

Avoiding Scams

Scams come from a variety of sources: telephone, email, in person, regular mail, social media, Internet, or other methods. It is important to check out an individual or an offer before providing any personal information.

Con artists often target older people.

Be wary, particularly when someone suggests, for example, that your home needs repairs or that you have won a contest. Don’t be fooled by telemarketers. Be suspicious when told that your Medicare “needs to be fixed.” NEVER give bank account, credit card, Medicare, or Social Security numbers to anyone you don’t know and trust. Never pay any amount of money for a “prize” that you have supposedly won without checking out the organization it’s from.

Be especially suspicious of offers to help you–for a fee–recover money lost to other telemarketers; it’s an especially cruel hoax. Remember: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is! Call Legal Aid of East Tennessee for help in checking out a telemarketer proposal.

If you are asked for money or personal information (Medicare, bank account, Social Security, etc.), explain that you must first make a call. Call Senior Information & Referral at 546-6262. They will investigate the offer with the help of Knox County ElderWatch and law enforcement agencies to help you determine if it is legitimate or a scam. If someone says, “You must act now,” and cannot wait for you to call them back, it most likely is a scam.

The Knoxville and Knox County Business Tax offices can tell consumers if a business is licensed in the city or the county. Their offices do not license nonprofit agencies or professionals who are licensed by the state (doctors, lawyers, veterinarians, etc.). But all businesses that are not state licensed, have a physical location in Knoxville or Knox County, and do more than $3,000 business annually must be licensed locally. If a company is not licensed, be careful about conducting business and follow the steps in the above paragraphs. These offices do not enforce codes, register complaints, or revoke licenses, but they can tell you if the business has a local license.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) can tell you if any complaints have been registered and whether the matter was resolved. BBB has a 24-hour automated telephone line that allows callers to check on businesses outside of regular business hours. The bureau also provides information about charitable organizations. Charities are required to register yearly and submit a financial report.

You also can contact the Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs for assistance.

The One Call Club is an Office on Aging program that checks service providers to be sure they will provide high-quality service to club members at a reasonable price.



Identity Theft

Identity theft, or ID theft, is a crime in which an impostor obtains key pieces of another person’s identifying information, such as Social Security or driver’s license numbers and uses them for personal gain. This crime can include check fraud, credit card fraud, financial identity theft, criminal identity theft, governmental identity theft, and identity fraud.

If you think that you have been a victim of identity theft, it is important to immediately follow the steps below:

  1. Keep a detailed log of every action you take. Include dates and times of phone calls, and the names of individuals you speak to, as well as notes about the conversations.
  2. Contact your local law enforcement agency and file a police report. You should be put in contact with an officer or detective who handles fraud.
  3. 
Contact your financial institution (bank, credit union, etc.). You may need to close current accounts and open new ones that are password protected.
  4. If a credit card is stolen or opened in your name, call the credit card company and suspend or cancel the card.
  5. Contact the major credit reporting agencies for a copy of your credit report for review and place a fraud alert. This alert adds extra protection if an identity thief tries to make major purchases or open credit cards in your name. An initial fraud alert lasts 90 days but can be extended up to seven years.

Note: When you contact the credit reporting agencies, you will NOT speak with a person. These are automated phone systems. You will have access to a fraud assistance advisor once you receive your reports in the mail.

Major Credit Reporting Agencies:

  • Equifax: 1-800-525-6285. TTY: 1-800 255-0056
  • TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289. TTY: 1-877-553-7803
  • Experian: 1-888-397-3742

Most online credit-reporting sites–even those that claim to be free–will enroll you in a for-pay monthly plan that you have to remember to cancel to avoid the expense. A website that does not do this is www.annualcreditreport.com. To confirm your identity, the site will prompt you through a series of questions that require a good working knowledge of your financial history.

Check with your bank to determine if it offers access to credit reports as a free service to customers.

If you need additional help to sort through the situation or get more information about protection, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) at 1-888-400-5530. ITRC is a nonprofit, nationally respected organization dedicated exclusively to the understanding and prevention of identity theft. The ITRC provides victim and consumer support.

Hiring In-Home Services

When you hire an individual or company to come onto your property or into your home, you assume a certain amount of risk, as does the person hired. There are many issues, including liability for damage to your property, liability for injury to the worker, potential for scams, and payment of Social Security taxes.

When needing home repairs, ask friends for referrals, join the One Call Club, or check listings in the Yellow Pages. Be extremely wary of unsolicited offers for home repair or improvement, especially if someone arrives uninvited and offers a bargain. Get an estimate from more than one business; ask about senior discounts; and secure an agreement in writing. You also can ask Legal Aid of East Tennessee to review a contract before you sign it; the agency’s help is free to seniors.

Members of the Office on Aging’s One Call Club have access to prescreened service providers and can avoid most of the issues and concerns listed below.

Questions to Ask Before Hiring Someone 
To Come Onto Your Property or Into Your Home

  • Who will do the work? Does the company use employees or subcontractors?
  • Who supervises the employees or subcontractors?
  • Does the individual or company have experience? What type? How long has the individual or company done this kind of work?
  • What background checks are done by the company?
  • What is the company’s policy on hiring employees or subcontractors with a criminal record? Companies can run a police background check, but may not have a policy against hiring someone with a criminal record.
  • Does the individual or company have a business license or other appropriate license? Is it current? Is the license held in Knoxville/Knox County, or elsewhere?
  • Is the individual or company accredited by a governing agency?
  • 
Does the individual or company have workers’ compensation insurance? Is it current?
  • Has the individual or company paid an insurance bond?
  • If the company uses subcontractors, does the subcontractor have a license? What about workers’ compensation insurance? Has the subcontractor paid an insurance bond?
  • Have any complaints against the individual or company been filed with the Better Business Bureau, the Tennessee Consumer Affairs Division, or any applicable licensing board?
  • Can the individual or company provide references along with contact information?
  • What work or services will be provided?
  • When will the work or services start and end?
  • How much will the work or services cost? What is the payment schedule? Does the individual or company accept checks or money orders so payments can be documented? Is any money required upfront? Is that payment refundable?
  • Finally, ask for a detailed contract that covers the work or services to be done, any materials that will be used, cost and payment schedule, and start/end dates.

NOTE: If you hire someone to work in your home, you may be responsible for Social Security and Medicare taxes. You must pay those taxes if you are an “employer” who has the right to tell the worker when, where, and how to do the work.

Medicare Fraud

Protecting Medicare’s trust funds to ensure availability of future benefits is a priority for our government. Detecting and deterring Medicare fraud requires the active help of every beneficiary. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) suggests:

  • Medicare will NEVER call or come to your home. Do not speak to anyone who initiates contact by phone or home visit and claims to represent Medicare. Call law enforcement to report the incident.
  • Never give your Medicare number to anyone over the phone or whom you don’t know if you did not initiate the contact. Do not send it over the Internet, except to secure, encrypted sites such as Social Security’s and Medicare’s official websites. If in doubt, don’t do it.
  • Check your Medicare Summary Notice (MSN) or report from your Medigap company to be sure you received the medical service listed.
  • 
Be suspicious of companies that offer “free” medical equipment or waiver of your copayment.
  • Beware of health-care providers/suppliers who use door-to-door or phone offers to sell goods and services.
  • 
Beware of health-care providers who say they represent Medicare or a federal agency or use pressure tactics to get you to accept a service, product, or insurance.
  • Beware of health-care providers who offer “free” screening tests at senior gatherings and ask for your Medicare number. If the services are free, they do not need your number.

In East Tennessee, free and confidential information and assistance are available to help you report suspected fraud, waste, and abuse. Call the East Tennessee Area Agency on Aging & Disability and ask about the Tennessee Senior Medicare Patrol Project (SMP).

Call the appropriate agency for Medicare Part A or B to report possible fraud.