Technical Support Scam Running Rampant Across Nation

Published in Woonsocket Call on December 25, 2016

If one penny was given to me for every phone call I received from a “Microsoft employee” warning me about a virus in my 10-year-old computer, I could retire as a millionaire. The Washington, DC-based AARP says that thousands of consumers across the nation may have fallen victim to the ‘technical support scam,’ more than ever before. Last month, the AARP Fraud Watch Network launched a new initiative to raise the awareness of the scam and educate consumers about how they can protect themselves.

A survey released on November 14, 2016 by Microsoft found that over the past year two-thirds of consumers surveyed have experienced the tech support scam, in which the phone caller poses as a technician from one of the major computer companies. AARP’s efforts to educate consumers about this scam includes online content, advertising and media appearances featuring renowned security expert and Fraud Watch Network Ambassador Frank Abagnale.

The Nuts and Bolts of the ‘Technical Support Scam’

Executing the scam via telephone, email or even pop-up ads, the phone caller informs a targeted person that a virus or some other security problem has been detected on the victim’s computer, and offers to easily make a repair. Instead, their goal is to gain control of the computer, access personal files and pass words, and obtain credit card information to charge the consumer for the supposed repair or a warranty program – which proves to be worthless.

“If you or someone you know receives a call or an email from someone identifying themselves as a technician with Microsoft, Google, Apple or some other well-known technology company, it is likely to be a scam. Just hang up the phone,” said Abagnale, in a statement. The large computer firms never make proactive calls or send email to provide unrequested technical support.”

Microsoft’s survey findings indicate that 20 percent of the people surveyed around the world continued with a potentially fraudulent interaction to their computer, visited a scam website, or even provided a credit card or other forms of payment, after the initial contract. This means that the victim downloaded harmful software, giving the scammers access to their computer.

Interestingly, the victims who continued to interacting with the scammers, half were millennials (ages 18 to 34), the technology savvy generation. Thirty four percent were ages 36 to 54 and 17 percent were age 55 or older.

Abagnale advises consumers never to give control of their computer to a third party, nor to provide a credit card number to pay for unsolicited repair services or warranty programs.

Don’t Let Your Guard Down

Adds AARP Rhode Island Director Kathleen Connell, “We’ve had an enthusiastic response to our multi-media Fraudwatch presentation. “Many older Rhode Islanders are relatively new to the online world and they are the most vulnerable. But anyone who lets his or her guard down can suffer enormously at the hands of online scammers. And by no means have criminals abandoned their old-fashioned tactic via the U.S. Mail and land-line phones. Our presentation is based on the perspective of former con artists and we include a copy of AARP’s Con-Artist’s Playbook, which reveals the nasty tricks of the trade.

“As we often say, people hear about scams in the media and think, ‘I would never fall for that.” Well, of course not. You just watched a news story warning the scam is active. It’s the one you haven’t heard about that can be fatal because the cons know exactly which emotional and psychological buttons to push.

“We’re most pleased by how volunteers have stepped up to take our training and become presenters,” Connell added. “We couldn’t manage the demand ourselves.”

“Most consumers don’t have the technical skills to know that their computer has been infected with malicious software, exposing them to widespread theft and fraud,” said Attorney General Peter Kilmartin. “A growing number of consumers make purchases, pay bills, or monitor bank account information online. Giving a thief access to that information is akin to inviting them into your house to take whatever they want.”

Kilmartin suggests the following tips from Microsoft to protect from these telephone tech support scams:

Do not purchase any unsolicited software or services.

Ask if there is a fee or subscription associated with the “service.” If there is, hang up.

Finally, Kilmartin urges Rhode Islanders to never give control of your computer to a third party unless you can confirm that it is a legitimate representative of a computer support team with whom you are already a customer. Immediately report the scam call to the Consumer Protection Unit at the Office of Attorney General at 401-274-4400 (Monday – Friday, 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.) or email at consumers@riag.ri.gov.

Any group interested in scheduling a Fraudwatch presentation can call the AARP state office at 401-248-2674 and speak with Outreach Director Darlene Reza Rossi. AARP also offers free scam alerts via smart phone or computer. You can learn more about Fraudwatch in Rhode Island and enroll in the Fraudwatch Network at http://www.aarp.org/rifraudwatch.

A Couple’s Unofficial Guide to (Surviving) Retirement

Published in Woonsocket Call on December 18, 2016

Some people will tell you that nothing is for certain in life but death and taxes. But, Author Nora Hall adds another truism for us to think about. That is, retirement guarantees that couples are going to face new issues in their relationship. No ifs, ands or buts.

Hall, a 72-year North Kingston resident, recalls, “We were surprised that retirement was a bigger adjustment than we thought it would be.”

The freelance writer began researching the joys and frustrations of retirement when her husband Art, a former president of a manufacturing company, retired and they saw the need for major adjustments in their relationship.

Sharing Retirement Woes

As a new retiree, Hall admitted she was unsure of how to deal with these life stage changes and immediately began to seek out information on adjusting to a retirement marriage. Since she found no book or articles on the topic, Hall began to interview other retirees. As she learned from their personal experiences, she realized that there was a need for a book.

“I never thought that I would ever write this book,” says Hall. But she ultimately penned the 113-page paperback book, entitled, Survive Your Husband’s Retirement, published by Narragansett-based EBook Bakery.

“This book was just the natural extension of my freelance writing,” she notes, adding that it took over three years to write and publish the first edition of her book. The second edition only took one year to produce because she had already accumulated a lot of the research.

However, Hall admitted, “I was a lot fussier about the look and feel of this book.”

Hall notes that her skills in interviewing others and writing about their messages and concerns came from jobs throughout her professional career where she wrote copy for appeal letters sent to potential donors to the New England Colleges Fund and then the VNA in Massachusetts. She began her career as an elementary school teacher before moving to arts administration where she coordinated the Artist in Residence and the Boston Globe Scholastic Art Award Programs in Massachusetts.

In the process of talking with hundreds of retired woman, sometimes even their husbands, Hall gleaned from these interviews five areas (a husband’s tendency to be bossy, always there, dependent, angry or to never listen) that caused conflict in the retirement relationship along with solutions that these couples discovered that ultimately would maintain harmony in their marriage. She decided that she would share this information with other retired couples by writing a book.

Tips to Fix Your Relation

Hall’s first edition released in 2013 (along with a second edition, published last month, which provides more stories and couple coping tips) goes far beyond simple identification of issues. In addition, she provides reasons behind the common feelings many men experience when they first leave their life’s work and the potential conflicts many couples face.

In her books, she also offers the solutions older couples shared with her that provide examples for newly retired couples to implement as they struggle to find harmony in this new life stage. Most of all Hall strives to help couples see that they are not alone and that laughter is the best solution for all of us to have and details some quirks that need to be tolerated, ignored or altered.

Hall observes “A lot of people initially dread retirement but when they work at making it a positive experience it can really be a wonderful time in your life. The more we develop our companionship as a couple the difficulties we face are more manageable.”

So, what is the secret for older couples ultimately having a fulfilling relationship?

“Communication and Compromising,” can be key to fixing a retiree’s relationship difficulties, says Hall.

Spreading the Gospel

Hall is focused on getting the word out about her book by speaking at public libraries, churches, and women groups and Rotary Clubs throughout the Ocean State and even at the Ocean Life Long Institute, an adult learning program based at University of Rhode Island. The Rhode Island author is even planning a trip to Anchorage, Alaska, to spread the gospel that a couple’s retirement “can be an exciting new chapter in their life.”

Hall received her undergraduate degree from Dunbarton College, Washington, D.C. and a Masters in Education from Boston University. In addition to her Survive your Husband’s Retirement, Hall blogs regularly on her website, and offers workshops on adjusting to retirement. Her family consists of two grown children and their spouses, six grandchildren and one, now seasoned, retired husband. She and her husband Art moved to Wickford, R.I. in 2000.

Contact Nora to schedule workshops or raise a retirement question via email at nora@survieve yourhusbandsretirement.com. To purchase a copy of the second edition of Survive your Husband’s Retirement, go to Amazon.com.

Republicans Begin a Legislative Assault on Social Security

Published in Woonsocket Call on December 11, 2016

With the dust just settling after last month’s heated presidential 2016 election, the GOP took over the White House and maintained control of both chambers of Congress. With almost 40 days left before Obama leaves office, an emboldened GOP calls for the repeal of Obmacare and the privatization of Medicare. That said, fixing Social Security is now on their short list of domestic policies to address.

Last Thursday, the long-anticipated political skirmish over how to reform and ensure the fiscal solvency of Social Security began with Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson (TX-03) introducing legislation to drastically overhaul the nation’s most popular social insurance program.

In the Eyes of the Beholder

“For years I’ve talked about the need to fix Social Security so that our children and grandchildren can count on it to be there for them just like it’s there for today’s seniors and individuals with disabilities,” Johnson said in his statement introducing H.R. 6439, the Social Security Reform Act of 2016. “My commonsense plan is the start of a fact-based conversation about how we do just that. I urge my colleagues to also put pen to paper and offer their ideas about how they would save Social Security for generations to come,” he said.

Johnson’s legislative proposal seeks to overhaul the nation’s Social Security program by increasing the retirement age from 67 to 69, this change impacting people born in 1968 who will begin retiring in the mid-2030s. The basic Social Security benefit formula would also become less generous for beneficiaries… except for the poorest beneficiaries. The annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), using a Chained-Weighted CPI, would put the brakes on generous COLA increases. COLA’s would be cut for those earning over $85,000.

Circling the Wagons to Protect Social Security

Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi came out swing in a statement after Johnson’s threw his bill into the legislative hopper, charging that it would “inflict deep cuts in Social Security benefits.”

“Apparently nothing upsets House Republicans like the idea of hard-working people getting to enjoy a secure and dignified retirement. While Speaker Ryan sharpens his knives for Medicare, Chairman Johnson’s bill is an alarming sign that Republicans are greedily eying devastating cuts to Americans’ Social Security benefits as well,” Pelosi said.

She warned, “Although current retirees and those close to retirement will receive their Social Security benefits, changes are looming with a Trump administration and a Republican-controlled Congress. For younger generations all benefit cut options are expected to be put on the table.”

Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline calls Johnson’s legislative proposal a “travesty,” warning that it would “destroy Social Security as we know it by slashing the critical benefits that millions of seniors rely on to live their retirement years with dignity.”

According to Cicilline, the last time Republicans tried to eliminate Social Security during the Administration of President George W. Bush, the American people were outraged and rejected it.”

Max Richtman, President and CEO of the Washington-based National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare views Johnson’s Social Security fix legislation introduced as the 114th Congress is wrapping up, “the first salvo in the ‘War on the Working Class.’”

Rep. Johnson will no doubt re-introduce his bill in the next Congress, he predicts.

According to Richtman, Johnson’s legislative proposal cuts Social Security benefits by one third while raising the retirement age from 67 to 69. It seeks to control costs by changing the benefit-computation formula in a way that cuts benefit amounts. Finally, it cuts COLAs, too.

Richtman charges that this Social Security reform proposal would “irreparably harm the nearly 60 million Americans who currently depend on Social Security as well as future beneficiaries.”

“President-elect Trump will have a veto pen. Now is the time for Mr. Trump to re-affirm his campaign promise “not to touch” Social Security and Medicare. So far, he has been uncharacteristically silent on this vital issue. I promise that we will hold him accountable,” says Richtman.

“No one voted for massive cuts to Social Security, nor to end the program as we know it,” says Nancy Altman, founding co-director of Social Security Works, in a response to Johnson’s legislative proposal to radically change Social Security. “The Johnson plan would gradually but inexorably turn Social Security from a program that replaces wages to one that produces essentially one flat benefit, independent of how much a worker contributed,” she says.

“With Republicans in full control of the federal government, these cuts have a real chance of being passed into law. Trump needs to immediately reassure the American people that he will keep his campaign promise and veto this awful bill. He should tweet that immediately,” adds Altman.

The presidential debates and the platforms of the GOP and Democratic party reveal a stark difference as how to each party will fix the ailing Social Security program. Now is not the time to put Social Security on the chopping block. Congress must come together to hammer out bipartisan approaches to ensure the fiscal solvency for the next 100 years. .