Post Your Problems/Lawrence Walsh: Doctor 'examines' mail, finds scams

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As a practicing pediatrician, Helen Podgainy gets a lot of email and snail mail at her Coraopolis office and Sewickley home.

She called the Post-Gazette after receiving in her home mailbox a coral-colored notice about "New Social Security Changes and Benefits" and a business letter with urgent terminology on the outside of its green envelope.

"I think they're both scams," she said.

They looked like scams to me when I drove out to the home she shares with her husband, Pete Bitaxis, a retired contractor.

Dr. Podgainy, a youthful-looking 70, handed me the Social Security notice. It was one of those fold-over notices that asks victims, er, recipients, to provide their signatures, date of birth, phone number and email address. Recipients are asked to mail one half of the card to a "distribution center" in Texas and keep the other half for their records.

The card states that Congress has passed legislation that "changes your benefits. A new brochure, 'New Social Security Changes and Benefits' is now available."

It said the brochure would include "explanations" about the changes and benefits.

"For your free copy of the new brochure, please mail the attached postage paid reply card today."

But what does the fine print at the bottom of the card say about the information in that free brochure?

It says the information "is not affiliated with or endorsed by government agencies."

And what else does it say?

"You may be contacted by an insurance licensed representative." (You can bet that you will be contacted by a salesperson.)

It then goes on to say that "securities and advisory services" will be offered through "a registered investment advisor" who "does not provide tax or legal advice."

Although the card sender promises a "free" brochure about Social Security, what it really wants is your personal information. Keep that personal information to yourself, get your Social Security information from one of its local offices or at www.socialsecurity.gov and discard the card.

The green envelope Dr. Podgainy handed me states under the return address that "this is not a government document," but it declares in larger type that the contents are "Important" and "Time Sensitive" and include an "Annual Minutes Requirement Statement."

Dr. Podgainy served as the vice president and secretary of her husband's contracting business but no longer does so "because he retired years ago."

The envelope contained "instructions for completing the annual minutes form," including the names of each officer, board member and shareholder. It turns out the company that sent the instructions and other forms wants $125 to do something recipients can do for themselves.

"It's ridiculous," Dr. Podgainy said.

Equally ridiculous was a letter she recently received that gave her "one last chance" to call a company that promised up to $1,100 in air fare for two people to fly anywhere.

The name of the airline they gave her is a combination of the names of two recognized airlines. "I've never heard of it," she said.

Dr. Podgainy said she also has received emails and snail mail regarding such scams as the "you've won millions, just send money for various fees and taxes," "a friend has been robbed overseas and needs money" and "a foreign national needs your help to send money out of his country and wants your bank account number."

"It's amazing how many people fall for these scams," she said. "It's a real shame."

Dr. Podgainy deletes the emails, discards the snail mail and prefers to spend her days with the young patients who come to her office.

"They're the most fun," she said. "They keep you young."

yourbiz - larrywalsh

Lawrence Walsh can be reached at pyp@post-gazette.com and 412-263-1895. Please include your day, evening and/or cell phone numbers. Due to volume, he cannot respond to every email and phone call.


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