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Iowans should be wary of scam calls during coronavirus, Sen. Joni Ernst says
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Iowans should be wary of scam calls during coronavirus, Sen. Joni Ernst says

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Sen. Joni Ernst speaks at the Cerro Gordo County GOP Brunch on the Beach in August 2019 in Clear Lake.

Sen. Joni Ernst urged older Iowans to be wary of the increased number of scams circulating because of the novel coronavirus and also to reach out to the Area Agencies on Aging if they have questions or need help.

The Iowa Republican held a virtual town hall about Medicare this week with Joe Sample, executive director of Iowa Association of Area Agencies on Aging, and Dwane McFerrin, with the National Association of Health Underwriters.

Sample warned Iowans not to give out any personal information to anyone they don’t know or trust.

“There are illegal robocalls, which are phone calls from numbers you may or may not know, and everything can be pitched from low-priced health insurance to work-from-home schemes,” he said. “Avoid giving personal information on those types of calls.”

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Iowans, who are expecting to receive federal stimulus checks, do not have to give out any information to receive these checks, Sample said. The federal government has all the information it needs to process checks and get them to Americans, he said.

“You may be getting calls or emails asking for personal bank information or asking you to provide a fee to get your check faster. This is a scam,” Sample said.

Another scam sells vaccinations for COVID-19 or home-testing kits for the virus. Sample said there is no vaccine for the coronavirus or testing-at-home kits.

McFerrin, with the health underwriters association, said if someone asks for your Medicare number, it’s one of the first signs they are trying to scam you.

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“Never give that out,” McFerrin said. “Be sure you’re not providing that to someone you don’t trust or you don’t know.”

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Anyone wishing to check if a phone call or email if valid can call the Area Agencies on Aging hotline toll-free at 866-468-7887 or the Iowa Legal Hotline at 1-800-332-0419.

Ernst said she is working on legislation — outside of the pandemic — that would increase penalties for fraudulent calls and scamming.

“We always seem to see an uptick in fraud and scams when there is a crisis in our communities,” Ernst said.

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Area Agencies on Aging also can connect eligible callers with local services, such as meal delivery or ones that help alleviate the loneliness some people may be experiencing during social isolation, Sample said.

“We are actively working with food banks, grocers and volunteer networks to ensure people are not only getting access to help, but they have basic contact with people for some sort of connection,” Sample said.

Meal providers are taking precautions to avoid spreading the virus by wearing personal protective equipment and boxing meals with as little contact as possible, Sample said.

People frequenting grocery stores or getting their groceries delivered or using curbside pickup should wash their hands when they get home and could take extra precautions by wiping down groceries before putting them away. People should always wash produce before eating.

Elder abuse prevention specialists also can be accessed through the Area Agencies on Aging line.

Sample said with people isolating at home, older adults may be “locked in” with their abuser.

“I would encourage you to use that number as a starting point to get access to someone who can provide you assistance,” he said.

Also, Sample said, the Iowa Legal Hotline can provide Iowans legal advice related to COVID-19 such as evictions, unemployment or identity theft.

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