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District attorney’s office launches elder fraud prevention campaign during COVID-19

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The U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico, W. Stephen Muldrow, and the Elder Justice Task Force (EJTF) announced today the launch of an elder fraud education and prevention campaign during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The public service campaign aims to raise awareness about the different types of fraud associated with the pandemic that have been prevalent during these past months; advise senior citizens and their caretakers on how to prevent becoming victims of these scams; and inform the different ways to report cases of fraud.

The campaign also encourages the public to provide information to the federal and state authorities in a confidential manner, Muldrow said during a news conference in San Juan.

“This educational campaign seeks to provide the elderly and the general public with the tools to prevent criminals from taking advantage of the crisis we are living through,” said Muldrow.

“As I have stated in previous occasions, the well-being of our elderly citizens during this pandemic is one of our main priorities. I commend the efforts of the Elder Justice Task Force and those who have joined our mission during this emergency,” he said.

Meanwhile, Inés del C. Carrau Martínez, acting secretary of the Puerto Rico Justice Department urged Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries to “protect themselves, be cautious, and disregard any unsolicited calls or visits” that offer COVID-19 testing, vaccinations, or medical equipment, if they suspect anything is amiss.

“We’re dealing with a serious and complex health issue. We have to take care of our elderly, so they don’t become a target for scams through false advertisement or offers,” Carrau said.

Family Department Secretary Orlando López-Belmonte said the campaign adds to the agency’s efforts in “providing guidance to the population we serve and at senior centers so that they do not become victims of fraud.”

Family caretakers — who are key in detecting, avoiding, and reporting these new scams associated with COVID-19 — are also encouraged to be mindful of the elderly.

“As part of this initiative, we call on the family caretakers who support the elderly to be alert, because they that threaten their own and their loved ones’ financial safety,” said José R. Acarón, local director of AARP-PR.

Other entities that have joined forces in this campaign are the Postal Inspector Service; the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Office of the Inspector General; the Federal Trade Commission; and the Federal Bureau of Investigations.

Scam calls on the rise
In related news, Muldro confirmed that the U.S. Secret Service has received multiple reports that individuals falsely claiming to be customer service representatives of local cell phone providers are calling members of the public as part of a scam to receive personal and financial information.

Secret Service reports confirmed that these scammers falsely represent themselves as employees of the cell phone provider and attempt to obtain personal information from the call recipient by offering a discount to those that register for auto-pay with ATH Movil. 

The customer receives a call and is told that the cell phone provider is updating the network from 3G to 5G and also offering a discount off their cell phone bill if they pay using ATH-Movil. Customers are then told that in order to receive the discount, they need to confirm account information. 

During the call, the scammer sends an authentication code from the cell phone provider’s website to the customer. The scammer then requests that the customer verbally confirm the code claiming that the scammer needs to confirm the identity of the customer before proceeding to discuss their account information, Muldrow explained. 

Once the customer provides the code, the scammer gains access to the customer’s account with the cell phone provider. The scammer now controls the customer’s account, and fraudulently requests that the customer provide their ATH Movil information. 

Customers are then told to turn off their phones for the changes in the account to take place. During this time, the scammers are able to transfer funds to different bank accounts in Puerto Rico and outside of the jurisdiction and/or make fraudulent purchases using the customer’s information, Muldrow said.

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This story was written by our staff based on a press release.
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