Governor Pritzker extends stay-at-home order through April

March 31, 2020

 

Illinois’ current stay-at-home order will be extended through the month of April to help curb the spread of coronavirus.

The proclamation was made by Governor JB Pritzker during his daily #COVID19 briefing on March 31. It adds a month to the original order that he issued on March 20.

“I have let the science guide our decisions and I’ve relied upon the top medical experts, scientists, public health researchers, epidemiologists, mathematicians and modelers, from the greatest institutions in the world whose guidance on infection rates and potential mortalities and protective measures is second to none,” he said. “Illinois has one of the strongest public health systems in the nation — but even so, we aren’t immune to this virus’ ability to push our existing capacity beyond its limit. We need to maintain our course and keep working to flatten the curve.”

The extension also applies to the temporary statewide closure of all K-12 schools that the governor ordered on March 13, two days before he announced a prohibition on in-person dining in restaurants throughout the state.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot — whose efforts to combat the virus include closing the city’s lakefront and launching a plan to house the infected in hotel rooms — acknowledged the hardship of the order while expressing her support for the governor’s actions.

“This may not be the measure that we like, but it is the measure we all need to combat the deadly and growing COVID-19 crisis,” said Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot.”The City of Chicago fully supports Governor Pritzker’s bold and necessary extension of the Stay at Home Order, and stands ready to partner with the State and our health officials as we navigate the challenges that lie ahead in safeguarding our residents. We will get through this crisis together and I want to thank all those who have been doing their part.”

Chicago launches bold plans to curb spread of COVID-19

 

Downtown Chicago’s lakefront and parks closed
When sunny spring weather caused crowds to gather on the lakefront, Mayor Lori Lightfoot ordered that the lakefront, beaches, parks and the 606 be closed March 27 for an unspecified time to curb the spread of coronavirus. Chicago police patrolled the area to clear crowds and some areas have been fenced off.

 

Window washing essential
Spring window washing is going ahead as planned in the neighborhood. Window washing crews have been observed by residents at several buildings in New Eastside including 155 N. Harbor Dr. and 201 Westshore Dr. in New Eastside, causing residents to hastily draw their blinds.

 

COVID-19 in New Eastside
In March, cases of COVID-19 rose in New Eastside. Cases COVID-19 have been reported in the Prudential, Aon Center, Aqua and Lancaster buildings. Building managers sent notification of reported cases to tenants and residents via emails.

 

Chicago Park District Programs go online
Chicago Park District is bringing the fun to you. Children’s storytimes, make a baby Yoda art project, and video tips on how to keep your house squeaky clean while burning calories are coming to you online via the Chicago Park District Programs website. Visit chicagoparkdistrict.com/stayingactive for a list of their offerings: from bingo boards for download to virtual meditation and ballet videos.

 

Chicagoans come together in sing-alongs
Throughout the stay-at-home order, Chicagoans have found a way to cheer themselves up. Sing-alongs organized via social media platforms have filled the air with Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” which drew 8,200 virtual attendees and likely more at the actual event on their balconies and at their windows at 7 p.m. on Saturday, March 21. The event caught the attention of Jon Bon Jovi himself, who dedicated an Instagram post to the city, “I am with you with all my heart and my soul, sending my love to everybody in Chicago and across America.”

The radio station 97.1 The Drive put together their own sing-along of the National Anthem and Queen’s “We Will Rock You” March 27. A singalong, especially for kids took place, Sunday March 29 at 5p.m. with a chorus of “Let It Go” from the Disney movie “Frozen.”

These events tend to pop up sporadically and at last minute notice. To take part in upcoming singalongs, please follow New Eastside News’ Facebook page, where we will be reposting the events as they are announced. 

 

2020 election wrap-up
Democrats claiming victory after the 2020 Illinois Primary elections include incumbent Sen. Dick Durbin, who will run against Republican challenger Mark Curran in the November general election. Incumbent State’s Attorney Kim Foxx will face Republican challenger Patrick O’Brien. Incumbent Rep. Danny K. Davis will run against Republican Craig Cameron for the Seventh District, which includes New Eastside, Streeterville and the West Loop.

 

New Eastside and Streeterville political races to watch
Unless a challenger emerges, incumbent State Sen. Robert Peters will run unopposed in the race for Senate District 13, which includes Streeterville and everything east of Columbus Dr. in New Eastside. The same holds true for incumbent Kambium Buckner, who won the primary for House District 26. Lamont Robinson ran unopposed and won the primary for State House District 5, which includes everything west of Columbus Dr. in New Eastside, all of River North, and the eastern half of the Loop.

 

City suspends late fees on parking tickets and more
On March 18, Mayor Lightfoot announced that the city has initiated several “hold-harmless policies” to ease the burden caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. Effective immediately, Chicago will stop charging late fees on payment plans, utility bills, parking tickets, red-light citations, booting and other violations. “This is a common sense way that we can help mitigate the burdens and pressures many are feeling,” Lightfoot said. “We know that these practices disproportionately impact the residents that are most in need during this crisis.” The policies will remain in effect until April 30.

 

City rents hotel rooms for people with coronavirus
Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office said certain people who test positive for coronavirus or are awaiting test results would be housed in hotel rooms rented by the city beginning March 23. The measure will apply to those “who cannot safely return home (but) do not need hospital care.” At the time of the announcement, the city had already reached agreements with local hotels to provide more than 1,000 rooms for those “exposed to or mildly ill with COVID-19.” According to the Chicago Tribune, the program could expand to include up to 4,000 hotel rooms costing nearly $175 per night, and the expense will be covered by “federal funds and other potential sources.”

 

How to give back in the neighborhood
In a recent email newsletter, Alderman Reilly thanked the community for their enquiries into how to give back locally in the time of the coronavirus pandemic. There are many ways to help.

  • CPS teachers or childcare providers are welcome to sign up with Sittercity. Sittercity will match sitters to care for children of first responders and healthcare workers, as both are welcome to access the site for free. Visit sittercity.com for more information.
  • CPS nurses or healthcare providers, including retired healthcare workers and those with out-of-state medical licenses, can sign up for the Illinois Medical Reserve Program. The IMRS is in need of volunteers to help support the healthcare field at this time. For more information, visit illinoishelps.net.
  • The country is also in a blood donation shortage and the Red Cross is asking for more donations. If you are eligible, visit redcross.org.
  • For those who are unable to leave their homes or food insecure, there are several Chicago organizations that could use help and donations. One of which is Greater Chicago Food Depository. They are looking for volunteers ages 18-60 at chicagosfoodbank.org.
  • Please keep in mind if you have exhibited symptoms of the coronavirus or come into contact with someone who has exhibited symptoms or been diagnosed in the last 14 days, you should stay at home and not locally volunteer. For more information visit ward42chicago.com

 

Deals on Divvy
It’s a good time to get a deal on Divvy. To help ease the burden of Illinois’ stay-at-home order, the City of Chicago has arranged a deal to reduce the cost of renting Divvy bikes. The cost of an annual Divvy membership has been reduced 50% — from $99 to $49.50 —The “steeply” discounted memberships are available through April 30, 2020.

Other two-wheeled measures include reducing the regular $3 cost of 30-minute Divvy bike rentals by 66%, which comes out to a dollar for a half hour.

“Chicago is committed to ensuring reliable and accessible transportation for every neighborhood and community,” said Mayor Lori Lightfoot in a press release, “We are taking every measure possible to provide the pricing support needed to keep our residents mobile and our city moving forward.” Divvy is also launching a 30-day program to give critical healthcare workers free bikeshare rides.

 

Local grocery stores enact dedicated hours for senior citizens
Seniors, and those with underlying medical conditions, are at the most risk for serious coronavirus complications, according to the CDC. To make essential trips to the grocery store and pharmacy easier for those individuals that are most at-risk, local stores have enacted senior-specific hours.

  • Whole Foods, 255 E. Grand: Those 60 and up can begin shopping at 7a.m., before the store officially opens at 8a.m.
  • Whole Foods, 30 W. Huron: Those 60 and up can begin shopping at 8a.m, before the store officially opens at 9a.m.
  • Target, 401 E. Illinois St.: Each Wednesday, the first hour of shopping is dedicated to seniors and those with underlying health concerns. 7-8a.m.
  • Mariano’s, 333 E. Benton Pl.: 6-8a.m. is reserved for senior citizens and those with underlying health concerns.
  • Jewel-Osco, 550 N. State St., For seniors and those with underlying health concerns, priority will be given on Tuesdays and Thursdays 7-9a.m.
  • Walgreens: 8-9a.m. on Tuesdays is senior shopping hour.

 

CTA, Metra help to ease COVID-19 burden
Starting on March 24, The Chicago Transit Authority offered partial credit to customers who purchased fare cards but were unable to use them due to the coronavirus.

“A one-time credit,” according to a CTA press release, applies to “any remaining days left on an active 7- or 30-day pass.” In other words, a person who purchased a 7-day pass but only used it for one day would be credited with six days of “Transit Value” that would be “added to the cardholder’s Ventra account.”

The CTA also offered reassurance that it will continue operations during the stay-at-home order. Medical personnel also get free rides at this time.

 

McCormick Place transforms into makeshift hospital
Plans are underway to turn McCormick Place into a 3000 bed makeshift hospital to treat coronavirus patients by April 24. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is providing kits help transform several exhibition halls in the facility into a temporary medical site.

 

Northwestern Memorial Hospital restricts visitors
In an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 there is a new no-visitor restriction at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. According to the hospital’s website, visitors are not allowed in all in-patient and out-patient care sites with the following expectations:

  • Pediatric patients under the age of 18 (limited to one visitor/companion 18 or older)
  • Neonatal ICU patients (limited to two visitors 18 or older, one at a time)
  • Compassionate care, including pastoral care visits and end-of-life patients (limited to one visitor 18 or older)
  • Laboring mothers (limited to one visitor 18 or older)
  • Patients requiring transportation home after an ED visit or outpatient visit or procedure (limited to one visitor/companion 18 or older)
  • In these exceptional cases patients and visitors will be screened for symptoms of COVID-19 or flu before being admitted.

Chicago cops on lookout for repeat offenders

by Jacqueline Covey

At the Streeterville CAPS meeting, 6 p.m., Jan. 2 at Living Access, discussion focused on neighborhood justice activities and when to contact the police. 

Officer Al Robinson reported to residents that calls to service were up. Calls to service are the number of times “the phone rings” with a resident complaint. “That’s good,” he said.

Robinson said, upon a report of a crime, the area remains on police radar, even if the officer response didn’t result in an arrest. For the best results when reporting a crime, Robinson said to always provide as detailed a description as possible of the alleged criminal. 

“Don’t ever think that you’re wasting our time by calling us,” Robinson said. “Call us.” 

A resident pressed officers at the meeting about repeat offenders, and what can be done to end the cycle of crime. 

“You’ve done your job, involved in the court system and then, oopsie daisies, they’re out,” one resident said, expressing concern about the justice system. 

Robinson said the answer is to get involved. The court advocacy program operates in each policing district and follows the court cases and outcomes of incidents that occurred in each neighborhood which may be of interest to the community.

Residents are vetted and introduced to the court system as advocates for the community. They follow one of the 56 current cases in their district and provide a sense of not-in-my-backyard justice in the city. 

“We hope the judge sees this participation and gives a harsher sentence,” Robinson said.

The advocacy program is a response to crime and wrongdoing, as it’s meant to show unity in numbers. 

“(We’re) speaking out for the community that doesn’t have a voice because they’re not (in the courtroom),” Sgt. Christopher Schenk said. 

A resident who leads a neighborhood advocacy program said these types of activities make an impression on Chicago’s court system. The resident also called for neighborhood reforms and enforcement of a geographical restriction for repeat criminal offenders. 

The resident said they recognize “habitual characters” causing trouble in neighborhoods they do not live in.

Crash victim on mission for safer Michigan Avenue

by Mat Cohen

On Wednesday, Dec. 16 at 10 a.m., Phyllis Mitzen walked with a cane along E. Delaware Place and across Michigan Avenue along with her husband, Michael. 

She’s on a mission to make cross- walks safer. 

Six months ago at this crossing, Mitzen was knocked to the ground by a van which rolled on her leg. She spent 15 hours in surgery, 10 days in the hospital and three months in rehabilitation.

On Dec. 16 she walked with a cane to the corner of Michigan and Delaware, meeting with 20 people and Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT)  official Samadi Malihe, to initiate a discussion about making the area safer. 

One of the women supporting the conversation was Janice Lewis. Her son was involved in an accident 10 years ago in Montgomery, Mich. When Lewis went to the hospital she didn’t recognize him.  He died Jan. 4, 2010.

“It changes lives,” she said. “So anything we can do, let’s do it.”

Since 2012 there has been an average of approximately 75 pedestrian deaths each year in Chicago, according to CDOT. The crossings along the Magnificent Mile between Oak Street and Chicago Avenue make the strip the third highest area for fatalities.

One of the main changes Mitzen is asking for is extended traffic lights to give slower walkers a chance to cross.

The group highlighted that slower people, mainly young kids and the elderly, have to start walking as soon as the light changes to have enough time to cross. But with busier intersections, cars try to get through the lights as late as they can, delaying pedestrians from crossing.

Mitzen serves as the president of Skyline Village Chicago and is a member of the Mayor’s Commission for Age Friendly Chicago. She’s also planning, along with State Representatives, a town hall meeting  in February at Ogden Elementary School to focus on pedestrian safety.

“I think they certainly heard what we  had to say,” she said. “And having (Alderman Brian Hopkins) come certainly  helped. We’re following up with a town hall meeting at the Ogden School and two state Reps. will come. We’ll ask for updates there.” 

She will also be asking for updates on the plan for Vision Zero, a strategy to eliminate traffic fatalities.

“It’s a worldwide initiative for an age friendly city,” Mitzen said. “Chicago is signed on and it’s not clear where they are with the plan.”

For more information on Vision Zero, visit chicago.gov  

Development reshaping city’s skyline

by Jacqueline Covey

Several skyscrapers marching upward in New Eastside and  Streeterville will soon add thou- sands of square feet of residential,  hospitality and retail space. Vista  Tower, sisters Cirrus Condominiums and Cascade Apartments,  Tribune Tower and an upcoming hotel and apartment tower in a  location dubbed Site O will trans- form downtown Chicago’s east- ern border. For local residents  living amidst the daily hum of construction, completion of these towers is just around the corner.

Vista Tower

363 E. Upper Wacker Drive

Expected to open in 2020, Vista Tower will be the third-largest  building in the city and the tallest designed by a woman—Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang. Another first for the city is a blow-through  on the 83rd floor that helps alleviate wind pressure. The building  topped out in April and currently interior work is being completed. The 101-story structure will house 400 condos and a luxury hotel.

Cascade and Cirrus

197 N. Harbor Drive and 225 N. Columbus Drive

These sisters of Lakeshore East are still in the first of two phases, as the dirt has barely settled since the dual-groundbreaking on Sept. 18. Ted Weldon, executive general manager for Lendlease Development in Chicago, said the first stage of construction  consists of Cirrus Condominiums and Cascade Apartments,  in addition to Cascade Park. Residents will also see work being done to the pedestrian and bicycle path that connects the development to Lake Michigan under Lake Shore Drive. There’s  been interest in Cirrus since pre- sales for condos began in spring,  Weldon said. Visit cirruscondos.com or call (312) 469-8090 for an appointment.

Tribune Tower

435 N. Michigan Ave

Unveiled April 2018, the redevelopment and new construction  project at Tribune Tower began  in 2016 after Golub & Company and the Los Angeles-based  CIM Group purchased the  Gothic landmark and surrounding buildings for $240 million.  The complex will be converted to 162 condos and update the stores below.

The team also hopes to build the second-largest building  in the city. At a Nov. 19 community meeting, Streeterville  Organization of Active Residents (SOAR) and Alderman Brendan Reilly offered details of the plan after residents raised concerns about traffic congestion. Crain’s reported developers have added a  passageway connecting the south and west sides of the building. The through road will mainly serve the hotel, with drop-off lanes and short-term parking.

Site O

Nestled between Aqua and 300 E. Randolph, parcel O is expected to see action in the coming months. Plans include a 33-story luxury apartment building and a 20-story tower that will host two hotels.  

Lakefront Trail can be hazardous during winter

by Elisa Shoenberger

While the Lakefront Trail is a popular route for commuting cyclists, snow and ice can make it hazardous during the winter. 

A 2011 Park District and Active Transportation Alliance report found nearly 30,000 people  used the trail daily during the summer. It’s used through the winter, although the number of cyclists drops off.

Dan Lowman has been using  the path to cycle to work down- town for more than a decade.  “The Park District does a  really good job of clearing and salting the Lakefront path,” he said. “The path is often in better shape than Lake Shore Drive and other roads.”

However, the conditions can become dangerous in the winter.

A few years ago, Lowman slipped on clear ice near Oak Street. He used his bicycle to anchor himself on the incline to avoid falling into Lake Michigan. A city worker in a tow truck saw the incident and threw down his tow line so Lowman could pull himself up.

Lowman actively uses the path but “If there’s been snow,  ice or big waves, I don’t bother. I don’t have the need to have that same incident again,” he said.

During adverse conditions, he gets off at Oak Street, takes the underpass near the Drake Hotel, and gets back on the Lakefront Trail at a safer place or takes Inner Lake Shore Drive.

“Chicago Park District crews remove snow and apply salt to the Lakefront Trail as needed, seven days a week,” a spokesperson for the Park District said. “Crews also work with the Office of Emergency Management Communications (OEMC) to close off sections of  the trail that are in close prox- imity to the lake edge when  conditions are icy.”

Colin Cameron, founder of Chicago Bike Law Firm, said that the city can be liable for damages for accidents on the Lakefront Trail since it is a designated bike trail.

There are informal alert systems that cyclists use such as #chilft (Chicago Lakefront Trail) on Twitter to inform each other about the path. The Park District recommends people check its website and follow the district on social media for updates. 

Starbucks Chicago Roastery a coffee wonderland

By Elisa Shoenberger

At 9 a.m. Friday, Nov. 15th, Starbucks Chicago Roastery opened as a temple dedicated to all things coffee. Each facet, from the architecture to food offerings, is a celebration of the exalted coffee bean. 

It’s the “best experiential retail you’ll see anywhere,” guest speaker and Crate and Barrel founder Gordon Segal said. The new store honored the former location of the Crate and Barrel flagship that was designed to be an experience for its customers.

Visitors appear to be filled with wonder as they enter the largest Starbucks in the world. Eyes are drawn to the 56-foot golden cask filled with roasted coffee. It soars up several stories with “symphony piping” shooting roasted coffee to the many bars and coffee stations throughout the store. 

“If you want to come in and just look and grab your coffee, that’s fantastic. But if you want to dig down on coffee and learn everything, then we’re here for that too,” said Marc Wanless, Director of Global Operations, Roasteries at Starbucks. 

Throughout the day, employees roast 25 pound batches of coffee beans that are loaded into the giant cask. All coffee roasted, Wanless explained, was exclusive to the Roastery Chicago location.

By following the cask and symphony piping to the upper floors, visitors will find more than the average Starbucks cup of coffee. There is a holiday special, a three-layered “Pistachio bicerin” at Experiential Coffee Bar on the third floor and exclusive Chicago cocktails infused with Starbucks or Teavana flavors at the fourth-floor bar.

There’s even a station dedicated to whiskey barrel aged coffee where green coffee is put into Knob Creek whiskey barrels, Starbucks partner Shiami Ranasinghe said. 

And as a final nod to the process of coffee, the backstairs feature a five story mural of a coffee harvest by Chicago artist Eulojio Ortega.

While this Roastery is devoted to all aspects of coffee, it’s also a celebration of all things Chicago. The location uses local distilleries for the cocktails and works with Chicago-based chocolatier Uzma Sharif to pair her chocolates with coffee.  

There’s a love letter on the fourth floor of the building with the line: “This Roastery honors all of these years of beautiful coffee in this beautiful city. A shrine to coffee, and a celebration of all we have done and will do here together. Thank you, Chicago.”

GPAC members look forward to wintertime in Chicago

By Mat Cohen

Like the people of Chicago, the parks are gearing up for winter.

The preparations were discussed Oct. 16 at Maggie Daley Field House.

The Grant Park Advisory Council (GPAC) discussed revised by laws, an approach for more signage throughout the park, dog-friendly events and physical park updates.

The revised by laws were passed by unanimous vote. 

Maggie Daley Park Supervisor Jackie Guthrie said winter programming will be announced Nov. 18. The lower Hutchinson Field is being re-sodded and a few broken sprinklers will be ready for spring.

Guthrie added the ice rink at Maggie Daley Park this winter will be operated by Rink Management, a change from last year. Rink Management is one of the largest organizations operating ice rinks in the country.

GPAC President Leslie Recht assured meeting attendees the park is moving in the right direction for improvement of the dog-friendly area, including a possible dog agility event in spring. 

Recht said there are too many complaints of people getting confused while finding their way through the park.

“We need to try and work with everybody to get better signage throughout the park to help with people from Chicago and people who are visiting,” she said.

She said the GPAC wants to work with parking garages surrounding the area to incorporate a validation system. 

“It would be a benefit to everyone bringing more people into the park,” Recht said.

The next GPAC meeting will be Nov. 20 at Maggie Daley Field House. There will not be a meeting in December and dates for the 2020 meetings have not yet been announced.

Coyotes have adapted to big city living

By Elisa Shoenberger

There are 3,000 to 4,000 coyotes living in the Chicago area, according to Stanley Gehrt, professor at Ohio State University. And they can be found across city, even in Grant Park and Graceland Cemetery.

“They are finding ways to use all parts of the landscape in most parts of Chicago,” Dr. Gehrt said. Coyotes make use of green spaces, such as cemeteries and golf courses, but also may curl up in bushes during the day and people might not notice them. 

Their population began increasing in the 1990s, but numbers have leveled off in the past ten years, according to Gehrt.

Some residents could be concerned about a predator living in Chicago. But the number of problems has been low, only a few incidents per year, said Seth Magle, Director of the Urban Wildlife Institute at the Lincoln Park Zoo. “Ninety-nine percent of these coyotes are really good at not drawing attention,” he said.

Coyotes are good at finding places to avoid humans. Golf courses are great because they aren’t used much during the winter, Magle said. One coyote even had a den of pups in Soldier Field’s parking lot in 2014. The best time to see the animals is at sunset in cemeteries like Graceland or Rose Hill in Uptown. 

Occasionally, a coyote’s behaviour is unpredictable, like the coyote who walked into a cooler at a Quiznos downtown restaurant in 2007. But that’s unusual, Magle said, likely the result of some strange interactions between humans and the animal. When not hiding from humans, coyotes hunt rabbits and rodents, which is great for keeping those populations down.

The animals have made other interesting adaptations. Gehrt’s research found some coyotes look both ways before crossing the road, which is necessary in busy traffic areas. Through direct observation and cameras on the coyotes themselves, scientists have seen them observing traffic and adjusting their crossing strategies. 

The Urban Wildlife Institute has a scientist citizen project called Chicago Wildlife Watch in which people help scientists gather data on animal patterns. There are remote motion-sensitive cameras set up throughout the city. People can access the photos and tag animals in photos to help scientists gather data

Phone scammers steal millions annually, but better tech may offer help for consumers

(Published Aug. 31, 2019)

By Jesse Wright

Three years ago Emily got a weird call.

Emily—not her real name—answered her cell phone and someone told her some recent computer work she’d had done had overbilled her. She was owed $299.

“But in order to (refund it), I had to give them access to my checking account, which is the stupidest thing you can do but they’re so good at this and they sound so sincere,” she said.

Instead, the refund set in motion a scam that lasted years and drained tens of thousands from Emily’s bank account. Once the scammers had her account, they deposited a refund almost $10,000 in excess of the refund amount, only to call back, apologize for the so-called mistake and then demand a wire transfer of $10,000 to make up for their error.

Of course, there was no error. The check they deposited was no good, but it showed up in Emily’s account before it was flagged, so as far as Emily could tell, someone really had mistakenly deposited thousands of dollars in her account.

Emily lives downtown and she’s retired, but phone scams can happen to anyone and they’re not rare. And even though Emily is one of the lucky ones—she ended up getting most of her money back—she is so embarrassed about what happened she only agreed to speak anonymously.

After the scammers called her to report their overpayment, they told her she needed to transfer the excess money from a specific Wells Fargo branch in Evanston.

“The most surprisingly thing was, I got the cab and I said I need to go to a Wells Fargo bank on Howard Street in Evanston,” she said. “We were driving and we weren’t very far and the cab driver said, ‘I know exactly where that bank is because I took another woman there about your age yesterday and I said, ‘Oh man, this is just a huge scam.’”

But, in case it wasn’t, she went anyway because scammers can be very persuasive.

Scammers can spin convincing stories but these days they’re also aided by telephone technology, a resource that once protected or at least warned consumers if something seemed fishy.

No longer.

Tom Kossow is the director of the Midwest region office of the Federal Trade Commission, the federal office in charge of protecting consumers. Kossow said scammers can imitate legitimate-sounding businesses or government offices and these scams bring in millions every year.

“We received 143,000 thousand complaints last year $55 million dollars in reported losses,” Kossow said.

With cell phones, everyone has access to caller ID, but caller ID is irrelevant in the age of VoIP systems or voice over internet protocol. VoIP systems are cheap or free to set up. The system routes a phone call through the Internet and in that way, the original phone number may be masked and a fake or even another legitimate phone number can be passed off as the call’s origin.

Kossow said one current popular scam involves Social Security imposter calls.

“Consumers are receiving calls from a spoofed number that shows it’s the Social Security Administration,” he said. “Victims will be told their Social Security number has been suspended due to suspicious activity.”

This is a variation on another classic scam, a call from the IRS requesting immediate payment. Scammers then request payment via gift card or money transfer or another anonymous payment system.

“The Social Security Administration is not going to call you with this sort of request,” Kossow said.

But scammers will and they have. Kossow said in the past 12 months his offices received 76,000 reports of this scam.

Kossow said if someone is the victim of a scam—or if someone knows a victim—they can call 1-877-FTC-HELP or 1-877-382-4357 or they can report the scam online at www.consumer.ftc.gov.

If the scammer is based in the United States, Kossow said consumers should also complain to the Better Business Bureau and the state’s attorney general’s office.

“Both of those organizations mediate complaints so they will contact the company and let them know they received a complaint about you,” Kossow said. “One thing we found out with people who operate frauds is, they know they are operating a fraud so they want to keep their complaints low, so they will often issue a refund at that point just so they can tell those organizations that they issued a refund.”

Finally, there is a bright spot for wary consumers. Some cell phone carriers are investing into call blocking or better caller ID technology to alert consumers for would-be scammers. Kossow said consumers can check with their phone provider to learn about those options and people can use Nomorobo, an app which alerts users to robo calls and works on Android and iPhone systems. This is one of the few outside apps the federal government does recommend, Kossow said.

“A few years ago the FTC issued a challenge to technologists and offered a reward to come up with technology that would block illegal robocalls and the winner of the challenge was Nomorobo and now that is generally available.”

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