Sunday, June 26, 2016

Disgusted - Almost Beyond Words

I do not find myself speechless often, but an email late last week was perplexing and momentarily left me without words. I know the world is subjected to a fair amount of fraud and deceit, but I thought I had seen it all with the scum that prey on the elderly. Those stories make the news periodically. I was wrong. Now there is a direct and focused fraud apparently ongoing against injured workers. Although the first reports are coming from Kentucky, it is a simple scam and could easily be perpetrated in any state. 

I would like to think that this is a very small effort, affecting just a handful of people. However, it is happening frequently enough in Kentucky that the Labor Cabinet issued a press release. Despite that release last week, I have not seen the story make any of the news sites I frequent. Therefore, I have reproduced the release below for full information. Hopefully publicity will keep these frauds from stealing anyone else's money. 

Essentially, this fraud is perpetrated by telephone (I see no reason it would not work by email if they obtain worker addresses). The caller claims to represent Kentucky (or any state's) government, sometimes specifically the workers' compensation "Appeals Board." They congratulate the injured worker on the fact that they have been awarded workers' compensation benefits. Then they inform the worker that to release payment of those benefits, there is an administrative fee or tax that must be paid. 

This is similar to other "you have already won" scams in which the caller tells you that you have won a great prize (a new laptop computer), but that you have to pay shipping and handling charges before they can send your prize. These scams have received a great deal of publicity, but somehow the perpetrators just keep making little adjustments to their pitch and it just keeps working on the uninformed.

The Kentucky Labor Secretary warns that there is no such fee or tax related to receiving workers' compensation in Kentucky. He also makes clear that no one from state government would call to inform someone of the result of their claim for workers' compensation benefits. 

What about Florida? We do not call to inform workers of the outcome of a petition for benefits either. However, an injured worker here might receive a call from the Division of Workers' Compensation. They might be trying to assist an injured worker. The caller would be from the Bureau of Employee Assistance and Ombudsman. That caller would have all the information about the injured worker and her or his claim. There is no need to provide such a caller with personal information. Never provide information such as Social Security number, date of birth, financial or card account numbers, or names of relatives to any caller. 

If you receive such a call (any call) and are suspicious, tell them you are happy to speak with them, but that you need to call them back. The Ombudsman's number is toll-free, (800) 342-1741. If the caller is really from the Ombudsman's office, they will be happy for you to call them back, and they will completely understand you wanting to verify them in this way. 

This works with any unsolicited call. If someone calls you seeking information, get their name and the name of the organization they represent. Then find a phone number for that organization yourself. Look it up online, use a phone book, etc. Call back with the published number you find, and then talk with them. At least then you know they are really affiliated with that organization.  

Is there a tax or a fee associated with receiving workers' compensation in Florida? ABSOLUTELY NOT. If anyone asks you to pay a fee or tax as a condition of receiving workers' compensation benefits, something is wrong. Get their telephone number and name. Then Contact the Florida Division of Workers' Compensation and provide them the details: date and time of the call, the name and number they provided. DO NOT send anyone money, a money order, check or provide credit or debit card information. Anyone asking you for money in this manner is likely taking advantage of you. It is very suspicious and should be reported. 

To contact the Division of Workers' Compensation call (800) 342-1741.

To contact the Florida Division of Insurance Fraud you can complete an online referral application or you can call the Department of Financial Services Fraud Hotline (1-800-378-0445).

To learn more about online scams, check this Reader's Digest story. To learn more about telephone scams, check this detailed Lifehacker story. 

Below is the Kentucky press release:

Commonwealth of Kentucky
Labor Cabinet

Jarrad Hensley

Kentucky Labor Cabinet Dept. of Workers’ Claims Warns of Workers’ Compensation Scam

Frankfort, Ky. (June 24, 2016) – The Kentucky Labor Cabinet Department of Workers’ Claims has learned of a telephone scam in which individuals are told that they have been awarded workers’ compensation benefits and that those benefits will be released once a certain “tax” or “fee” has been paid. The caller may identify themselves as being a member of the “Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board.”  The public should not fall for this scam.  Workers’ compensation beneficiaries are not contacted in this manner and no taxes are payable on benefits.  In addition, there is no entity in Kentucky known as the “Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board.” 

Kentucky Labor Cabinet Secretary Derrick Ramsey advises Kentuckians to be on guard for potentially fraudulent phone calls. “Unfortunately, there are people out there who are always trying to take advantage of unsuspecting citizens,” Sec. Ramsey said. “I encourage people to use common sense on this matter and to not provide any personal information to persons making unsolicited contact.  If it sounds suspicious or too good to be true, do not hesitate to contact the Department of Workers’ Claims.  I also encourage all Kentuckians who feel that they might have received one of these solicitations to report them directly to the Office of Inspector General for the Labor Cabinet.”

Consumers may contact the Office of Inspector General at 502-564-1985 and or the Attorney General’s office at 502-696-5300.

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