Russell County citizens should be cautious of callers claiming to represent Medicare or Medicaid, due to a foreign scam which has increasingly targeted elderly residents during the past two months, according to the Russell County Sheriff's Office.
Sheriff Heath Taylor said Wednesday that at least 10 elderly citizens in Russell County have reported themselves as victims of a Medicare and Medicaid scam, with dozens of others being targeted.
"They're getting social security numbers, they're getting personal information and date of birth," Taylor said. "We've already had several folks debit their accounts. They're getting their bank accounts. It's kind of going rampant throughout the community."
Most commonly, the scams begin when a person calls claiming to represent Medicare or Medicaid. The callers begin asking for personal information and inform the person they're calling that they must pay a fee. Taylor said some victims lose hundred of dollars through the scam.
The scam artists rely on their victims believing that the calls are coming from government agencies, Taylor said. In one common scam, callers informs targets they have become "winners" of a drawing and claims citizens must pay taxes before claiming their non-existent winnings.
When citizens targeted by the lottery scam attempt to verify that the person's claims are legitimate, the scam artists often offer to have an "FBI agent" call the citizen. Along with those claims, those claiming to be FBI agents will often provide a location of their office to make the operation seem more legitimate.
Taylor said he has not received reports of the Medicare and Medicaid scam artists claiming to be FBI agents, but warns citizens to beware of such claims.
"They're not automated, and they're very convincing," Taylor said. "It seems like every one of them identifies themselves as an FBI agent, a Secret Service agent. There's someone they're impersonating of authority."
Taylor said if citizens attempt to call the number back from a different number than the one they were targeted on, no one will answer. If they call back from the same number, citizens will often reach the same person who spoke with them earlier.
"I spent three days of my personal time running down FBI names and numbers that one individual in my county was given," Taylor said. "Not one of them was legit. But he was convinced that he had won this money."
Some residents receive multiple calls a day from people claiming government authority, often during the day when the elderly resident is most likely to be alone. The Medicare and Medicaid scam calls seem to be coming from Russia, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, which makes the cases impossible to prosecute, Taylor said.
"All these cases are unprosecutable," Taylor said. "I don't know of a case since this started years ago that's been prosecuted. Not one."
Taylor said if citizens do get calls from those claiming to represent Medicaid and Medicare, they should verify the authenticity of the call through a government agency.
"If you get a call in reference to Medicaid or Medicare, please verify," he said. "Don't give any information. Don't give your bank accounts. Don't give your social security. Verify somehow through a government agency."