Caregivers Can Take Advantage of Free Credit Freeze Law

Published in the Woonsocket Call on October 14, 2018

Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin touts a new federal consumer protection law, signed into law by President Donald Trump on May 24, 2018, that protects seniors from becoming victims of financial exploitation. Rhode Island’s Attorney General says that this law enhances Rhode Island’s law prohibiting credit reporting agencies from charging fees for credit freezes,(also referred to as a security freeze).

With enactment of the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, all consumers can now freeze and unfreeze their credit file for free for one year. Before this new law, fees were assessed, usually costing from $3 to $10 (though some states were free) to restrict access to your credit file, making it harder for others to open new accounts in another person’s name.

The new law lets people with certain legal authority to act on someone else’s behalf to freeze and unfreeze their credit file. It defines a “protected consumer” as an incapacitated person, someone with an appointed guardian or conservator, or a child under the age of 16. In addition, it extends the duration of a fraud alert on a consumer’s credit report from 90 days to one year. A fraud alert requires businesses that check a consumer’s credit to get the consumer’s approval before opening a new account.

“Many instances of financial exploitation include a person opening up credit cards or using the credit file of another for personal gain and identity theft. This added layer of protection will allow a guardian or financial caregiver the ability better safeguard the older person from being taken advantage of by a stranger or even someone they know and thought they could trust,”says Kilmartin.

To place a credit freeze on their accounts, consumers will need to contact all three nationwide credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. If you’re acting on behalf of a protected consumer, you must give the credit reporting agencies proof of authority before you can freeze and unfreeze the protected consumer’s credit. Proof of authority includes: a court order (such as an order naming you guardian or conservator; a valid power of attorney, and proof of your identity, which can be a Social Security card, birth certificate, driver’s license or other government issued identification.

Whether consumers ask for a freeze online or by phone, the credit bureau must put the freeze in place within one business day. When consumers request to lift the freeze by phone or online, the credit bureaus must take that action within one hour. (If consumers make these requests by mail, the agency must place or lift the freeze within three business days).
To place a fraud alert, consumers need only contact one of the three credit bureaus, which will notify the other two bureaus.

Rhode Island’s Credit Freeze Law

Filed at the request of Kilmartin and enacted earlier this year, the Rhode Island law eliminates a provision of existing state law that allows reporting agencies to charge up to $10 to consumers who ask for a credit freeze.

The legislation, which the sponsors introduced on behalf of Rhode Island Attorney General Kilmartin, stems from the Equifax security breach last year during which the credit information of 143 million Americans was exposed. Initially, Equifax was charging consumers who asked for a credit freeze to protect themselves from its own security breach, although it stopped after intense public outcry and pressure from numerous attorneys general.

At the time the law was enacted, Kilmartin said, “This is a big victory for Rhode Island consumers, giving them greater control over who can access their personal and financial information. Credit bureaus make money from selling our personal information to third parties. They should not be able to profit off consumers who decide to take control over who has access to their personal data.”

Protecting Rhode Island’s Seniors

“AARP applauds all efforts to protect older Rhode Islanders from phone and online credit scams that lead to identity theft,” says AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell. “Clearly, many consumers, and especially many of Rhode Island’s 134,000 caregivers, will consider taking advantage of this new option. It certainly complements the work we are doing as part of AARP Fraud Watch to thwart con artists who prey relentlessly on people of all ages.

“In the case of older Rhode Islanders, life savings can be at risk. “The new federal law allows caregivers to acquire legal authority to freeze a loved one’s credit reports, and that’s a good thing. But it is important to note that there are many things a caregiver should consider. Basically, caregivers need to have conversations about the threat and what everyone should be doing to protect against credit theft,” she added.

AARP’s John Martin said when he presents the Fraud Watch program to community groups he urges people to think about fraud prevention in the same way training and professional development is part of their work experience. “In the workplace, your job includes being up to speed on the latest policies, regulations and best practices,” Martin tells audiences. “Lawyers read law reviews, doctors read medical journals, tugboat captains read The Shipping News. Failure to do so could lead to a missed opportunity or a big mistake. Given the enormous threats out there, we all should consider keeping up on the latest scams and implementing precautions something like a part-time job that requires similar diligence. To do otherwise increases your risk and the stakes are frighteningly high.”

Connell warns not to forget the basics. “AARP provides common-sense advice, awareness and precautions as well as alerts when new scams are exposed or an old one reappears,” she says. “Don’t be passive and please do encourage older family members to be on guard. We are all in this together.”

Anyone can sign up for the free Fraud Watch Network service at http://www.aarp.org/RIFraudwatch to receive alerts and report scams or other suspicious activity.

Reporting Financial Exploitation

The Rhode Island Office of the Attorney General recommends that if you believe you or an older relative are victims of financial exploitation, contact your local police department, the Rhode Island Division of Elderly Affairs, or the Elder Abuse Unit at the Rhode Island Office of the Attorney General.

If you would like an investigator at the Elder Abuse Unit or an investigator with the Consumer Protection Unit to speak with your organization on the signs of elder abuse or how to protect from being a victim of a scam, please contact Mickaela Driscoll, Elder Abuse Investigator, at mdriscoll@riag.ri.gov or Martha Crippen, Director of the Consumer Protection Unit, at mcrippen@riag.ri.gov or by calling 401-274-4400.

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Everyone Loves a Countdown

In his own words, this writer’s top 5 commentaries of 2015

Published in the Woonsocket Call on December 27, 2015

As a columnist on “the aging beat” it has been a very eventful year in covering aging, health care and medical issues. During 2015, over 47 weekly commentaries appeared in the Pawtucket Times and Woonsocket Call. By reading my weekly commentaries readers were kept abreast on a dazzling array of aging issues including Congressional attempts to whittle away the Social Security and Medicare programs. They learned first-hand about the Rhode Island General Assembly’s move to not tax Social Security and to provide new benefits to Ocean State caregivers. Commentaries even touched on the passing away of Wayne Dwyer and Capitol TV’s Dave Barber, how to put the fire back in your relationship, and even travel tips.

Below are five article, providing you with the breadth and depth of my commentaries. Al other articles can be found on my blog, herbweiss.wordpress.com.

1. “Cicilline Spearheading Key Comeback: Rep. Wants to Reestablish House Select Committee on Aging, published in the Dec. 20 issue of the Woonsocket Call; in the Dec. 21 issue of the Pawtucket Times.

After Congress eliminated the House Select Committee on Aging in 1993 to rein in costs, this commentary takes a close look at Rep. David N. Cicilline (D-Rhode Island) and 63 House colleagues efforts to urge the newly elected GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan in correspondence to bring back the Aging panel to the House Chamber. It was extremely obvious to Cicilline and his cosigners of the House Aging panel’s importance to today’s Congress, especially with efforts to put Social Security and Medicare on the budgetary chopping block. In the late 1980s as a journalist covering Capitol Hill I saw first-hand how the former Aging panel’s bipartisan approach ultimately created sound aging. Working together for the common good of older Americans is sorely needed now with a House divided. Cicilline’s legislative efforts to bring this select committee back to life, can send a powerful message that the House is ready to confront concerns of the nation’s seniors. Go to: http://www.herbweiss.wordpress.com/2015/12/20/cicilline-spearingheading-key-comeback/.

2, Pausch’s The Last Lecture Is a Must Read,” published in the Jan. 30 issue of the Pawtucket Times. The 206 page book, “The Last Lecture” coauthored by Randy Pausch and Wall Street Journal reporter Jeffrey Zaslow, published by Hyperion in 2008, is a great read for those wanting to get their life’s priorities in order. The tome is jam-packed with Pausch’s wisdom that will certainly come in handy to the reader when confront by the “brick walls” or challenges in personal and/or professional careers

This commentary details the thoughts of terminally ill Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) Professor Randy Pausch, a 47-year-old father of three who had from three to six more months to live at the time he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in August 2007. One month before his death he gave his last lecture, part of an ongoing CMU lecture series where top academics give their “final talk,” revealing what really matters to them and the insights gleaned over their life if it was their last opportunity. Sadly, Pausch literally got his last chance to give his talk, “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.” Go to: http://www.herbweiss.wordpress.com/2015/01/30/pauschs-the-last-lecture-is-a-must-read.

3. “You are Never Too Old for Romance,” published in the February 13 issue of the Pawtucket Times. Rekindling your relationship may be as simple as packing your bags and taking a romantic trip. In this commentary AARP’s Love and Relationships Ambassador Dr. Pepper Schwartz, a sociologist and sexologist teaching at the University of Washington in Seattle Washington, says the findings reveal a need for couples to plan romantic getaways as a way to spend quality time with their partner and bolster their relationship.

In this commentary Dr. Schwartz, co-author of the newly released book Places for Passion, says “I wish we could be as romantic at home as we can on a trip but there is something about getting away that lets us forget about our daily stuff and instead, fully concentrate on each other. When we stay at home, it’s hard not to answer the phone or try to answer one more email but in fact, we seem to need to get away to have a new stage setting’ for romance to bring out the best in us.” Couples with children can take a short trip without them to boost the romance in their relationship, she says. Readers will find the commentary chock-full of tips for heightening the romance on the trip. Go to: http://www.herbweiss.wordpress.com/2015/02/13/baby-boomers-can-spice-up-valentines-day.

4. “Sensible Advice from Seasoned Folk to the Class of 2015,” published in the May 17 issue of the Woonsocket Call; in the May 18 Pawtucket Times. Every year very notable and professionally successful commencement speakers gather at the nation’s Colleges and Universities to give the graduating seniors their practical tips and advice as how to have a rewarding personal and professional life. This commentary calls for the end of the practice of bringing celebrities, politicians and corporate heads to give commence speakers. Regular people will do. Thirteen Rhode Islanders, many not recognized on the street but well-known in their communities were asked to give their “pearls of wisdom” to graduating seniors if they had the opportunity. They most certainly did. Go to:  http://www.herbweiss.wordpress.com/2015/05/17/sensible-advice-from-seasoned-folk-to-the-class-of-2015.

5. “Aggressive Scams Popping up All around the Ocean State,” published in the November 25 issue of the Woonsocket Call; in the November 26 issue of the Pawtucket Times. Throughout the year there were several commentaries to increase the reader’s awareness of protecting themselves from financial scams. According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission list of top consumer fraud complaints last year, more than 6,200 Rhode Island residents were victims of imposter scams. The commentary details one scam where the caller “Sergeant Bradley” threatens a person with a felony for not appearing in court unless they immediate make a payment on a debit card.

The commentary details AARP’s Fraud Watch Network. By registering for the free service a person can receive alerts via smart phone or your computer when a new scam surfaces. This program also allows you to report a scam going around your neighborhood that is shared across the network. For those not connected to the Internet, you can receive alerts and tips via a quarterly newsletter mailed to homes. Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin calls for “constant vigilance” and gives tips also gives tips on protecting yourself against scams.

 

Aggressive Scams Popping Up All Around the Ocean State

Published in Woonsocket Call on November 25, 2015

On Thursday morning, Mary Smith (not her real name) received a phone call from Sergeant Bradley from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office claiming she had missed jury duty and because so, there was a warrant issued for her arrest. Concerned, the older woman asked the man, who identified himself Sergeant Bradley, what she needed to do to fix the problem. She was instructed to go to a local CVS, purchase a pre paid debit card in the amount of $300 and to meet him in the parking lot of the Washington County Courthouse.

Thinking quick, Mary reported the troubling call to her local police. Like many older Rhode islanders, she had been a target of an aggressive scam now sweeping through the Ocean State, called the “jury duty scam.”

According to the Attorney General’s Office, in the latest rendition of the scam, an individual is calling Rhode Islanders claiming there is a warrant out for their arrest for failure to appear for jury duty. The individual, identifying himself as “Sergeant Bradley,” from either the “Washington County Sheriff’s Office,” the “South County Sheriff’s Office,” or the “Newport County Sheriff’s Office.” The caller ID shows the individual is calling from the 401 area code.

Here’s the scam

“Sergeant Bradley” tells the people he calls that they will be charged with a felony for failure to appear for jury duty and will then be held at the ACI for 30 days, after which they will be brought before Judge Suttell.

In order to avoid being arrested the scammer urges the individual to make an immediate payment using a pre-paid debit card. Mary did not fall for this old scam. It has been reported that at least one person paid more than $900 before they realized they were tricked.

Attorney General Peter Kilmartin calls on anyone receiving a similar phone call or threat to contact either the Rhode Island State Police to report the incident. Kilmartin says, “The individual making these phone calls has just enough information to make themselves sound legitimate.” This information, however, is readily available on the Internet to anyone with access to a computer, he notes.

“It is very important for anyone who receives a similar phone call to write down as much information as possible, don’t provide any personal information to the individual over the telephone, do not pay any money, hang up, and contact the State Police,” adds Kilmartin.

The state’s Office of Attorney General provides the following details about judicial process to keep Rhode Islanders from becoming a victim of the “jury duty scam.”
• Neither the Jury Commissioner nor the Rhode Island Sheriff’s Department makes telephone calls to prospective jurors threatening arrest or demanding that a fine be paid or a bond posted. If a juror who has been legitimately summoned in writing fails to appear, the Jury Commissioner will attempt to make contact and arrange to reschedule his or her service.

• Sheriffs in Rhode Island are a division of the Rhode Island Department of Public Safety and primarily work with the Courts. Unlike most other states, Rhode Island does not have sheriff departments based in counties. Each city and town has its own local police department.

Constant Vigilance Key to Fighting Scams

According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission list of top consumer fraud complaints last year, more than 6,200 Rhode Island residents were victims of imposter scams.

“These latest Rhode Island scams underscored the need for constant vigilance,” observed AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell. “We like to remind people that when people hear about a scam, the first reaction often is ‘I’d never fall for that.’ Well, maybe that’s because you just read about it in the news. People need to remember that they are most susceptible to the fresh scam no one is talking about that comes out of the blue.”

AARP’s Fraud Watch Network, Connell said, is one way to keep current. If you register for the free service you can receive alerts via smart phone or your computer when a new scam surfaces. You also can report a scam going around your neighborhood that is shared across the network, she added. If you’re not connected to the Internet, you can receive alerts and tips via a quarterly newsletter mailed to homes (Lean more and sign up at http://www.fraudwatchnetwork.org).

“Identity theft and fraud costs seniors billions of dollars nationally – in most cases, money that has been set aside for retirement, “Connell noted. “Impersonating police officers, federal agents or financial service companies, scammers use their “authority” to scare a person into paying them. Or, they pretend to be a friend or loved one in trouble who needs money.

“We’re committed to fighting back,” Connell declared, noting that one recent effort was a “reverse boiler room” operation.

In September, Connell and AARP Rhode Island volunteers Alan Neville of Cumberland and Carlo Gamba of West Greenwich met up in Boston with more than 50 others. Borrowing a favorite tactic the con artists’ playbook, AARP Fraud Watch Network staff and volunteers from New England and New York operated their own telemarketing boiler room. Instead of hearing from scammers, local residents received tips and information on how to protect themselves from imposter scams.

Strong Connections Protect Seniors from Scams

“Friends and family are key partners in protecting senior citizens from financial exploitation,” remarked Elderly Affairs Director Charles Fogarty. “Isolation is a major reason that people get victimized, so ensuring that senior citizens living in the community have strong connections to family and friends helps to protect them from scams and exploitation.”

The Department of Elderly Affairs (DEA) monitors fraud and scam reports from a number of sources, and distributes those notices to a network of approximately 500 partners in the community. If the victim of a scam is referred to DEA, they immediately contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Unit. DEA does not investigate instances of scams perpetrated by strangers, but does investigate financial exploitation of an older adult by family or acquaintances.