Beware of Scams Targeting Private Therapy Providers

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Internet scams targeting Physical, Speech, Behavior, and Occupational Therapists are on the rise. Last year, I received 3 different scams via email. Initially, I was shocked that I, along with other Therapists across the United States and Canada, were being targeted for our specific services. After the shock subsided, I realized that it made perfect sense. We, as Therapists, are ideal targets. We have big hearts, want to see people improve, and we can be …well, there is no easy way to put this, a little on the verbose side. We do fit the perfect profile for a viral scamming nightmare. Typically these scams tug on our emotional heartstrings and appeal to our sense of altruism.

Shirley Kunkel, M.A., CCC-SLP, a Private Practice Owner in Escondido, CA and Speech Pathologist for 33 years, recalls a recent encounter with a scam artist.

I became mildly suspicious when they asked if I worked on receptive and expressive language, reading disorders and fluency disorders. I felt like their request was not specific enough. So I tried to ferret out what specifically they were trying re-mediate. Sounded like all the disorders I work on in listed in an Ad. Also, the person signed off as Mitchell one time and Michelle the next. I couldn’t understand why the mother who had used Dr. in her title would be coming to my town for 4 months. It is not a scientific research community at the local hospital where I live. They said they presently lived in London and sometimes visited Egypt. I did not lose any money, but I regret that I invested my time and energies into responding to this thief.

Unfortunately, many Therapists are being targeted and are unknowingly engaging in these traps. As a result, some Therapists are losing their hard-earned money by the thousands. Tom Jelen, Director of Online Communication with American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), has also noticed this growing problem within the Private Practice Community.

ASHA has received several reports from our members about a scam that is being attempted on members in private practice. The scammer is requesting to have his or her child visit a private practitioner while visiting the United States. The scammer requests to pre-pay for an evaluation and then sends a cashier’s check that is in an amount well above the evaluation charge. At this point, the scammer requests that the practitioner deposit the money in his or her bank and send back the overage (minus some money for the inconvenience). This scam has been reported to the Federal Trade Commission.

In the article, Fake Checks, the Federal Trade Commission describes normal banking activity.

Under federal law, banks generally must make funds available to you from U.S. Treasury checks, most other governmental checks, and official bank checks (cashier’s checks, certified checks, and teller’s checks), a business day after you deposit the check. For other checks, banks must make the first $200 available the day after you deposit the check, and the remaining funds must be made available on the second business day after the deposit.

However, just because funds are available on a check you’ve deposited doesn’t mean the check is good. It’s best not to rely on money from any type of check (cashier, business or personal check, or money order) unless you know and trust the person you’re dealing with or, better yet — until the bank confirms that the check has cleared. Forgeries can take weeks to be discovered and untangled. The bottom line is that until the bank confirms that the funds from the check have been deposited into your account, you are responsible for any funds you withdraw against that check.

You Can Protect Yourself

The Federal Trade Commission offers some helpful ways to avoid being the latest victim of online scams in the article, “Giving the Bounce to Counterfeit Check Scams.”

  • Know who you’re dealing with, and never wire money to strangers.
  • If you’re selling something, don’t accept a check for more than the selling price, no matter how tempting the offer or how convincing the story. Ask the buyer to write the check for the correct amount. If the buyer refuses to send the correct amount, return the check. Don’t send the merchandise.
  • As a seller, you can suggest an alternative way for the buyer to pay, like an escrow service or online payment service. There may be a charge for an escrow service. If the buyer insists on using a particular escrow or online payment service you’ve never heard of, check it out. Visit its website, and read its terms of agreement and privacy policy. Call the customer service line. If there isn’t one — or if you call and can’t get answers about the service’s reliability — don’t use the service.
  • If you accept payment by check, ask for a check drawn on a local bank, or a bank with a local branch. That way, you can make a personal visit to make sure the check is valid. If that’s not possible, call the bank where the check was purchased, and ask if it is valid. Get the bank’s phone number from directory assistance or an Internet site that you know and trust, not from the check or from the person who gave you the check.
  • If the buyer insists that you wire back funds, end the transaction immediately. Legitimate buyers don’t pressure you to send money by wire transfer services. In addition, you have little recourse if there’s a problem with a wire transaction.
  • Resist any pressure to “act now.” If the buyer’s offer is good now, it should be good after the check clears.

Remember, if you think you’ve been targeted by a counterfeit check scam there is something you can do. Simply report it to the following agencies:

Sources

  1. Fake Checks, http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0159-fake-checks
  2. The Nigerian Email Scam, http://www.onguardonline.gov/articles/0002l-nigerian-email-scam
  3. Giving the Bounce to Counterfeit Check Scams, http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/articles/naps29.pdf

A version of this post was originally published on The Independent Clinician.

Pamela Rowe, MA, CCC-SLP, is the Clinical Director of Pamela Rowe, MA, CCC-SLP, LLC in Longwood, FL. As a Speech Pathologist, Community Partner, Wife, and Mother of 3, Pamela enjoys mentoring the next generation of Speech Pathologists and hosting various community health events within Central Florida.

Website: www.speechorlando.com
Facebook Group: www.facebook.com/speechorlando