12 Scams of Christmas
The 2017 Thanksgiving weekend saw one million more Americans than last year out shopping and the holiday spending is just beginning. The National Retail Federation (NRF) expects this year’s holiday retail sales to top last year’s by 3.6 percent to 4 percent for a total between $678.75 billion to $682 billion. As shoppers set records on spending Better Business Bureau® urges consumers to be prepared for scammers looking to take a bit of your holiday cheer.
BBB® shares the 12 Scams of Christmas and ways to avoid and identify them:
1. Look-Alike Websites – Many consumers will see an increase in the number of email alerts announcing deals, gifts, and sales. While mailers can look legitimate, the links may lead to look-alike websites meant to trick you into entering private information or give scammers an opportunity to download malware onto your computer. To protect themselves, consumers should:
Review the sender’s address, as businesses will often send emails with a proprietary address, like @bbb.org;
Look for misspellings throughout the email;
Hover over links without clicking to see where they reroute;
Only enter sensitive information into a website that begins with "https" as the "s" informs you that it's secure and information entered is encrypted.
2. Social Media Gift Exchange – Purchasing one gift and receiving several in return may sound like a harmless way to give and receive presents, but this seasonal scam is a pyramid scheme, which is illegal.
3. Grandparent Scams – Scammers target seniors posing as a grandchild or other family member and claim they have been in an accident, arrested, hospitalized or another urgent issue. The circumstance often requires money be sent immediately to resolve. Targets should:
Verify the situation by calling the family member in question directly;
Check with other family members to see if the claims are true;
Be wary if you’re asked to wire money or send gift cards in place of making a payment with a credit card.
4. Temporary Holiday Jobs – Many businesses require a little extra help with the holiday rush and often seek temporary employees, but beware of fraudsters who attempt to glean personal information from applicants. Job seekers trying to avoid this scam should:
Apply for to the job in person or by going directly to the retailer's website (not following links);
Be wary of anyone requiring you to hand over personal information over the phone or online before meeting for an interview;
Be suspicious of a job that requires you to pay for equipment or software upfront.
5. Free Gift Cards – Who doesn't love free stuff especially around the holidays? Scammers hope to take advantage of that fondness through phishing emails and pop-up ads offering gift cards. If you come across one of these offers you should not:
Open the email as it can be a phishing attempt but, if you do, don't click the links. Instead, mark the email as SPAM or JUNK;
Share any personal information to receive the card as the scammers will use the information to steal your identity later;
Click the ad but close out of the app or program you are using, clear your history and turn on your ad blocker.
6. E-Cards – Christmas cards are sent out this time of year and while some friends and family may be going high-tech by using e-cards so are scammers. Spot a friendly e-card from a scam by looking for:
Whether or not the sender's name is easily visible;
Be wary if you are required to enter personal information to open the card;
Avoid opening any suspicious email but if you do and see an attachment that ends in “.exe” which indicates an execute command and could download a virus, do not open it.
7. Fake Shipping Notifications – Deliveries notifications can often be expected throughout the holiday season as many consumers go online to purchase gifts, but some of these announcements may be phishing scams. These false notification emails often use a legitimate businesses name and logo to trick you into opening the email and allowing thieves to gain access to personal information and passwords. Targets should know:
Most online vendors provide tracking information that can be used to verify where your items are and identify the delivery company;
You are not required to pay money to receive your package, that payment was made when you make your purchase;
Delivery services do not need personal information to deliver your items.
8. Phony Charities – Charities often get a boost this season as consumers are in the giving spirit but scammers seeking to take advantage can pose as charities or needy individuals soliciting donations. Here are a few tips for spotting scammers:
Look for sound-alike names
Verify Your Charity at Give.org
Review the charities website to make sure they specify their plans for donations and how they will be used to address the issues they claim to combat.
9. Letters From Santa – Many legitimate businesses offer personalized letters from Santa, but some copycat scammers are only looking to glean personal information from unsuspecting parents.
Be suspicious of unsolicited emails offering special prices or packages for letters from Santa.
Check bbb.org to verify the legitimacy of any company that offers letters from Santa.
10. Unusual Forms of Payments – When making your holiday purchases be wary of anyone asking for a strange form of payment as they often can't be traced or undone. These may include:
Prepaid debit or gift cards
11. Travel Scams – Traveling for the holidays can get expensive, and bargains may be tempting, but some offers may be scams that end up costing you more instead of helping you save. To avoid travel scams consumers should:
Be cautious when it comes to email offers, especially if it is from an unknown sender or company;
Never wire money to someone you don’t know;
Ask for references.
12. Puppy Scams – While a year-round issue, puppy scams hurt families seeking to add a family member to their household for the holidays. Puppy scams are often difficult to avoid as cute pictures, and good deals pull at the heartstrings and wallet. To prevent this fraud, consumers should:
Do an image search online of the photo given of your pet. If multiple websites pop-up, it’s probably a scam;
Know what prices to expect because if the cost seems too good to be true, it probably is;
Search bbb.org for accredited breeders and rescue shelters;
Never pay using a money order or via the Western Union or Moneygram, instead use a credit card, which will give you the added protection of being able to dispute the charges.
If you come across any of these scams this holiday season help protect yourself and others by:
Keeping a close eye on your financial statements and quickly dispute any unrecognized charges.
Submitting a report to BBB Scam Tracker
Filing a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3)
Understanding Undue Influence
Understanding Undue Influence
PRACTICE TIP • October 2018
David Godfrey, American Bar Association Comission on Law and Aging
Understanding undue influence is a core component of advising clients in their advance planning, as well as preventing and spotting elder abuse. Undue influence replaces the will or free choice of the individual with the will or choice of another person. When someone exerts undue influence over another person, they are abusing persuasion to overpower the will of the individual. This influence can be core to acts of financial exploitation, psychological abuse, physical abuse, and health care decisions that do not reflect the true wishes of the person.
State law and case laws define the necessary elements to assert a claim of undue influence in each state. Generally, in a claim for undue influence:
The person is vulnerable—has a reduced ability to resist persuasion;
The perpetrator is in a position of power or authority;
The perpetrator overpowered the will of the person;
The outcome was unfair or improper.
Undue Influence and Elder Abuse
Lawyers counseling older adults should always be on the lookout for undue influence. The most common claims of undue influence involve financial exploitation. For example, the older adult may make a gift, sign a document, sell property for less than fair market value, or overpay for goods or services. These situations may be signs that an abuser is using undue influence on the client. Undue influence is often used by abusers to convince a person that the abuser is the only person who cares for them. This isolates the older adult from others—a form of psychological abuse. Isolation increases risk of further abuse and exploitation. Undue influence is used to convince persons that physical acts they would not willingly consent to are acceptable. Undue influence is used to persuade people on what health care they should receive or not receive.
Undue Influence Screening Tool
California has developed a screening tool for undue influence for use by Adult Protective Services (APS). The tool provides a clear step-by-step screening process and has application well beyond APS. It directs the agent through questions on four areas: vulnerability of the person, the position of power or authority of the perpetrator, the actions used to persuade the person, and how or why the outcome is bad for the person. This tool can be used across disciplines or customized to particular settings. Rather than relying on instincts, the tool gives guidance to understanding what the client is experiencing.
Don't Be Misled by False Medicare or Social Security Ads
Posted on August 16, 2018 by Jim Borland, Acting Deputy Commissioner for Communications
Online and otherwise, there’s a lot of information out there, and sometimes it’s difficult to tell what sources are credible. With millions of people relying on Social Security, scammers target audiences who are looking for program and benefit information.
The law that addresses misleading Social Security and Medicare advertising prohibits people or non-government businesses from using words or emblems that mislead others. Their advertising can’t lead people to believe that they represent, are somehow affiliated with, or endorsed or approved by Social Security or the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (Medicare).
People are often misled by advertisers who use the terms “Social Security” or “Medicare.” Often, these companies offer Social Security services for a fee, even though the same services are available directly from Social Security free of charge. These services include getting:
A corrected Social Security card showing a person’s married name;
A Social Security card to replace a lost card;
A Social Security Statement; and
A Social Security number for a child.
If you receive misleading information about Social Security, send the complete ad, including the envelope, to:
Office of the Inspector General Fraud Hotline
Social Security Administration
P.O. Box 17768
Baltimore, MD 21235
You can learn more about how we combat fraudulent advertisers by reading our publication What You Need to Know About Misleading Advertising.
You can also report Social Security fraud to the Office of the Inspector General.
A Public Health Issue That Affects Us All
Elder abuse is a critical social, health, and economic problem. Approximately 10 percent of adults age 60 and older have experienced physical abuse, psychological or verbal abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, or financial exploitation. Older Americans lose an estimated $2.9 billion a year as a result of financial exploitation. In the most heartbreaking cases, it means the complete loss of savings earned through decades of hard work.
Elder abuse also is a critical public health issue. Survivors report higher rates of depression. They often withdraw from social interactions, and many blame themselves, which results in shame and silence and magnifies these effects. They also have higher rates of hospitalization and institutionalization, at an estimated annual cost to our nation’s healthcare system of $5.3 billion. They are three times more likely to die prematurely.
Elder abuse intersects other public health concerns as well. For example, social isolation is associated with many negative health outcomes and also increases the risk of abuse. A decline in cognitive health increases risk as well, adding an additional facet to the challenges associated with the growing numbers of people with Alzheimer’s disease.
Elder abuse also overlaps with the opioid crisis. The conditions that prescription opioids are used to treat are more prevalent in older adults, making their medicine cabinets a target for theft. Addiction can drive family members to target the life savings of vulnerable elders to pay for drugs -- and to become violent if denied.
The good news is that there are things all of us can do to fight elder abuse. If you are an older adult, staying engaged in your community helps make it harder for predators to target you – and it also puts you in position to help spot abuse of others. Financial vigilance can help. If you hear about an offer or prize that sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If you are making a big purchase or investment, do not let anyone rush you into a decision, and don’t sign any documents that you do not completely understand without checking with a lawyer or trusted family member. Finally, consider these tips to protect your medications. Remember, if it happens to you, it is not your fault, and help is available.
We all should be aware of some common signals of abuse. These include bedsores, unexplained bruises, sudden changes in behavior, large bank withdrawals, and appearing frightened around particular people. You can report any of these “flags” to your local adult protective services agency – even if you’re not certain that abuse is happening.
Above all else, if you have older loved ones, stay in touch.
As with any public health challenge, no one can single-handedly stop elder abuse. It will take all of us working together to build a community in which people of all ages are safe and supported. As we observe World Elder Abuse Awareness Day today, I hope you will join us in taking a stand to end the human tragedy of elder abuse.
Spotting the Signs of Elder Abuse
Full Audit: Grand Rapids Home for Veterans didn't check patients, study complaints
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- A state audit says workers at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans falsely claimed they were checking on patients after being alerted of possible falls, failed to properly investigate allegations of abuse and neglect, and took too long to fill prescriptions.
The veterans home also continued with inadequate staffing levels even as the state filed four complaints against the contractor hired to supply nursing aides.
Auditors used surveillance video to show only 47 percent of bed checks and 33 percent of fall alarm checks were done, even though the home had produced documentation that the checks occurred.
CEO of Michigan Veterans Health Leslie Shanlion said that there have been decades worth of complaints with the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans. She was appointed to the position in October, just as the auditors were wrapping up their investigation, and says that going in she knew things weren't good.
"The audit reflects a lack of leadership, a lack of current policies, procedures, and training, and a lack of accountability," Shanlion said.
The audit was made public Thursday, a day early, after Rep. Holly Hughes, (R-Montague) called the findings "very disturbing."
She said in the statement that the "mistreatment of our nation's heroes is unacceptable and must be stopped."
The investigation by the Auditor General has been worked on for two years. Hughes tells FOX 17 that she was made aware of the report Wednesday afternoon and has just seen a preliminary report.
Click here to download the full 44-page report (PDF)
Hughes calls the investigation very detailed and there will be reports of "abuse, neglect and mishandling of things, that it's just deplorable."
"We will get to the bottom of this and demand accountability from the people responsible, whether that be further inquiry, reprimands or job termination," Hughes said in the release. "Our veterans deserve the best possible care and we'll examine what needs to be done to keep that promise to them."
The Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency says it is making changes to comply with auditors' recommendations.
Democrats firing back
“Holly Hughes saying she’ll get to the bottom of the mistreatment of Michigan’s veterans is the height of hypocrisy,” said Brandon Dillon, Chair of the Michigan Democratic Party in a press statement.
“If she wants answers and accountability from the people responsible for the horrendous conditions at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans, she needs to look in the mirror. Her vote, in 2011, for the budget that cut $4.2 million from the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans and privatized the care of our servicemen and servicewomen is what caused this crisis of neglect for Michigan veterans. If Hughes wants to contribute to the solution this time, instead of the problem, she should demand that this contract be canceled and the dedicated employees who served our veterans for so long be brought back. It’s time for this experiment on our veterans to end.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
What's wrong with stealing from Grandma? Plenty
She reached her childhood dream: to one day carry a briefcase and wear nice clothes and provide for her family.
But at 73, now retired and mostly homebound, the former business manager says home health care workers, over time, have carried away pieces of her life — new dresses still in garment bags, jewelry, silverware, $40 from her purse.
"I'm angry and frustrated," said the Detroit woman, whom the Free Press is not identifying to protect her from further exploitation. "I worked hard and then to have other people come into my house and take what they want is just wrong."
Related: 2 metro Detroit doctors convicted of health care fraud
A series of studies at Wayne State University is bringing into focus the vulnerability of elderly people not only to con artists and mail scams — but also to loved ones and trusted caregivers.
And the lead researcher, as well as other experts agree: Part of the problem is the ability of the perpetrators to rationalize their deeds.
■ Dad would want me to have this money to pay my bills.
■ My neighbor — if only she weren't so deep into dementia — would understand why I need a new car.
■ Aren't I owed something?
It's what some call a sense of entitlement.
"After a period of time, family members ... often feel entitled to take some of the money as sort of compensation for what they're doing, but also just of a sense (that) it's their money, too," said Peter Lichtenberg, director of Wayne State's Institute of Gerontology and lead author on the recent studies.
Trish Gerard calls it "a sense of entitlement."
Related: Tax scammers get bold with 'Get Transcript' accounts
"It's 'I'm giving up a certain amount of freedom and my life to take care of you,' " said Gerard, who heads the elder abuse unit for the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office. "It's a mind-set, and they don't think they are committing a crime."
The retired manager in Detroit said she has called police about her missing items. She has complained to the agencies that send her workers.
But she said she can't fire the workers. Having suffered several strokes, she depends on them for help in dressing and toileting.
"If you complain, they try to convince you you're crazy: 'Maybe you misplaced it.' I tell you, I know where everything is in this place. I keep my house neat. It is clean. And I am not crazy," she said.
Peter Lichtenberg is a clinical phsychologist and directorBuy Photo
Peter Lichtenberg is a clinical phsychologist and director of the Wayne State University Institute of Gerontology. (Photo: Robin Erb, Detroit Free Press)
Lichtenberg, who also is a clinical psychologist, has designed two screening tools — one a 77-question version, the other an abbreviated, 10-question survey that takes just about five minutes — to gauge seniors' abilities to make financial decisions.
Both also test for the presence of risk factors — trusted relatives or friends who appear predatory, for example.
Among the questions: How worried are you about not having enough money to pay for things? How often has anyone asked you for money? Have you really changed your will?
The questionnaires could be used by abuse investigators, doctors, bank tellers, insurance agents and others to determine whether a senior may be vulnerable to financial abuse, or even has already been victimized.
Lichtenberg and his team tested the tools for their reliability over the past two years. That's when troubling numbers began to emerge.
In one study, experts found that eight of the 69 elderly Detroit …participants had "decision-making incapacity," meaning that they no longer fully understand the risks and benefits of financial choices.
Among those eight, five reported they had been financially exploited in the past year. None of the incidents had been reported to authorities, Lichtenberg said.
Even those who were not impaired reported being exploited, though less often. In all, 13 of the 69 seniors reported being exploited.
And there are other reasons, combined with the perpetrators' sense of entitlement, that make seniors easy prey, Lichtenberg said.
For many elderly, their world has shrunk. Close friends have died. Loved ones are busy with their own families or have moved away. Driving or getting to the bus stop is a problem, yet they long to be engaged and to have a role in the world.
At the same time, aging may have stiffened the kind of mental agility necessary to size up risk and benefit and to detect manipulation and deceit.
Plus they often love their perpetrator — a nephew, a trusted neighbor.
More than any other age group, Lichtenberg said, seniors make financial decisions "solely with their hearts, not their minds."
The findings don't surprise folks like Letty Azar, chief program officer at the Detroit Area Agency on Aging.
Agency staff often detect the exploitation when family members ask for government-funded help for the elderly loved one, but then grow defensive when they must provide financial information, such as bank account records.
It's then, Azar said, that missing funds get noticed.
In fact, of the 13 seniors in the Lichtenberg study who said they were exploited, seven said money had been taken without permission from their bank accounts.
"I don't want to say it's not malicious, because it is," Azar said. "But maybe it doesn't start out that way. People are providing love and care and they justify the access and utilization of that person's funds because they're providing love and care."
"But at the end of the day," she said, "it's not OK."
Contact Robin Erb: firstname.lastname@example.org or 313-222-2708. Follow her on Twitter @Freephealth.
About the Lichtenberg assessment tools
The first, a 77-question exam, can be used by psychologists and doctors to determine whether a family member should be given guardianship, for example.
The second, an abbreviated, 10-question exam, can be used by front lines workers — an insurance salesman or an Adult Protective Services worker, for example — for a quick check for red flags that a senior may not be able to make sound financial decisions. Any concerns could signal a need for a more thorough assessment.
For information, go to www.iog.wayne.edu/ and search "financial tools."
Supporting independence, providing protection
Age itself doesn't make someone vulnerable to exploitation. And even someone with mild dementia may be capable of making some financial decisions.
Just as important, overprotecting loved ones can be as devastating as underprotecting them, according to experts.
"When you are disempowered, it really deflates you. You lose that sense of personhood," said Peter Lichtenberg, director of the Wayne State University Institute of Gerontology. "You don't want to fight anymore for those things that give you that higher quality of life."
Lichtenberg mostly works with clinicians to determine a senior's financial decision-making abilities. But he and others say there are signs, even for family members and other loved ones, that may indicate it's time that a senior get help in financial decisions.
■ Past due or late payments while in the home
■ Difficulty locating the checkbook or to report expenses
■ Large purchases, especially those potentially outside their means
■ Lending large amounts of money to others
■ Inability to pay bills because of helping a family member/friend pay theirs
■ Difficulty with general math skills
There are ways to help a senior protect money:
■ Register phone numbers on national Do Not Call lists.
■ Set up a post office box into which junk mail and solicitations can be diverted.
■ Set up direct deposit and automatic bill payments through a bank.
■ Identify a responsible family member to oversee all bills.
■ Consider a guardianship if appropriate.
To report suspected elder abuse in Michigan, call the state's 24-hour hotline at 855-444-3911.
For information about abuse and exploitation, go to www.ncea.aoa.gov. The Alzheimer's Association also offers help for families trying to work through financial decisions. Go to www.alz.org or call 800-272-3900
Source: Detroit Free Press; Robin Erb: email@example.com or 313-222-2708 . Follow her on Twitter @Freephealth
Brothers accused of embezzling from father who suffered from dementia
GRAND RAPIDS TOWNSHIP, MI – A pair of brothers are accused of embezzling more than $81,000 from their father in the last year of his life.
Scott and William Grondman Jr. face charges of embezzling from a vulnerable adult after Kent County Sheriff's Department investigators say they wrote checks for their own use from the account of their 84-year-old father, William Grondman Sr.
According to a probable cause affidavit in Kent County District Court, the elder Grondman was a resident of Heather Hills retirement community in Cascade Township in October when an employee became aware of financial irregularities and reported it to police.
The senior Grondman allegedly suffered from dementia and had no guardian or power of attorney over his finances, according to police.
Grondman was the owner of Green Meadow Mobile Home Park and Southwest Mobile Home Sales for many years.
Police say between January and October of last year, the brothers wrote at least 38 checks totaling $81,188.
William C. Grondman Sr.Courtesy Photo
Scott Grondman, 51, and William Grondman Jr., 57, were arraigned in March and are currently out on bond, according to jail records. Scott Grondman has a previous conviction from 1996 for maintaining a drug house, according to the affidavit.
William Grondman Sr. died April 19.
The brothers were in court this week where Judge Jeffrey O'Hara ruled there was enough evidence to bind the case over to Kent County Circuit Court before Judge Dennis Leiber.
Related: Obituary for William C. Grondman Sr.
E-mail Barton Deiters: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/GRPBarton or Facebook at facebook.com/bartondeiters.5
Woman accused of stealing money from elderly aunt with dementia agrees to plea deal, repayment-
GRAND RAPIDS, MI – A Grand Rapids woman police say drained the bank account of her 88-year-old aunt faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison after pleading no contest to a charge of embezzlement from a vulnerable adult.
Patricia Elaine Licari, 62, was set to have a trial Monday, Sept. 8, but instead pleaded no contest to a reduced charge that cut the potential maximum in half and has her agreeing to repay $25,000 to the estate of her late aunt Esther Nadalski.
Nadalski died April 7, less than a week before Grand Rapids Police detectives filed charges against the niece.
According to police, Nadalski had given Licari control over her bank account at Lake Michigan Credit Union years earlier because the elderly woman was struggling with dementia.
Over the course of time when Licari controlled the accounts, police say there is no accounting for some $75,000 in the account.
Licari was charged with a 15-year felony account of embezzlement from a vulnerable adult, but Monday pleaded guilty to the lesser charge with the agreement that restitution would not exceed $25,000.
About 10 years ago, the embezzlement penalties were changed by the state legislature to feature increased penalties for stealing from vulnerable adults.http://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2014/09/woman_accused_of_stealing_mone.html#incart_river
Muskegon Heights man, allegedly neglected by sister, found with festering infection, lying in own feces
MUSKEGON HEIGHTS, MI – A Muskegon Heights man was in such bad condition when Adult Protective Services officials check on him Monday, that the stench inside the home where he was found was nearly overwhelming to those there to help him, authorities said.
The victim, in his late 50s, who remained hospitalized on Wednesday, July 30, for a festering foot infection, was in the care of his sister, Paula Denise Patterson, when he was allegedly neglected and refused necessary care he needed, said Muskegon County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Timothy Maat.
Patterson was arraigned recently in Muskegon County's 60th District Court on two charges: Resisting and obstructing a police officer, a felony punishable up to two years; and vulnerable adult abuse, fourth degree, which is a 1-year misdemeanor. That charge indicates Patterson was his caretaker at the time and caused him harm by failing to let him receive the treatment or care he needed, Maat said.
Patterson, 57, has no prior criminal history, Maat said.
The victim was found on Monday, July 28, inside the home in the 2000 block of Baker Street in Muskegon Heights, lying on a wood floor in an upstairs portion of the house, Maat said.
"He was urine-soaked and in his own feces and had been experiencing a lot of neglect over a significant period of time," Maat said.
Patterson allegedly wouldn't let police officers who were accompanying Adult Protective Services into the home.
The officials had been to the home previously to check on the victim, but Patterson allegedly wouldn't let them inside.
The victim then called officials himself and requested an ambulance. At that point, police returned to the home and a Muskegon Heights Police Department officer was allegedly shoved by Patterson, Maat said.
Patterson was then arrested.
According to Maat, Patterson is listed with Adult Protective Services as the person providing care for the victim, but was not his legal guardian.
"She took on the responsibility for providing his care. She is not legally required, but once she is, she is required to act with some reasonableness. She failed to provide him adequate care," Maat said.
Patterson is currently out of jail, released on a $1,000 personal recognizance bond. A judge scheduled a preliminary examination for Aug. 11.
Heather Lynn Peters covers police and fire, and writes a statewide food column, The Spunky Kitchen, for MLive/Muskegon Chronicle. Email her at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @HLPNEWS.
DOJ and HHS call for action to address abuse of older Americans
U.S. Administration for Community Living
Department of Health and Human Services
Contact: ACL Press Office
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
DOJ and HHS call for action to address abuse of older Americans
Elder Justice Roadmap outlines critical path to combating problem
Today, leaders in the fight against elder abuse announced a framework for tackling the highest priority challenges to elder abuse prevention and prosecution, and called on all Americans to take a stand against the serious societal problem of elder abuse, neglect and financial exploitation.
Research suggests that 1 in 10 Americans over the age of 60 has experienced elder abuse or neglect, and that people with dementia are at higher risk for abuse.
Supported by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Elder Justice Roadmap was developed by harnessing the expertise of hundreds of public and private stakeholders from across the country and by gathering their input. The goal of these expert summits was to identify the most critical priorities and concrete opportunities for greater public and private investment and engagement in elder abuse issues. The Elder Justice Roadmap, being published today, reflects the knowledge and perspectives of these experts in the field and will be considered by the Elder Justice Coordinating Council and others in developing their own strategic plans to prevent and combat elder abuse.
“The Roadmap Project is an important milestone for elder justice,” said Associate Attorney General Tony West. “Elder abuse is a problem that has gone on too long, but the Roadmap Report released today can change this trajectory by offering comprehensive and concrete action items for all of the stakeholders dedicated to combating the multi-faceted dimensions of elder abuse and financial exploitation,” he explained. “While we have taken some important steps in the right direction, we must do more to prevent elder abuse from occurring in the first place and face it head on when it occurs.”
“From now until 2030, every day, about 10,000 baby boomers will celebrate their 65th birthday. And the fastest-growing population is people 85 years old, or older,” says Kathy Greenlee, HHS’ assistant secretary for aging and administrator of the Administration for Community Living. “Stemming the tide of abuse will require individuals, neighbors, communities, and public and private entities to take a hard look at how each of us encounters elder abuse—and commit to combat it.”
To support the mission of elder abuse prevention and prosecution, DOJ has developed an interactive, online curriculum to teach legal aid and other civil attorneys to identify and respond to elder abuse. The first three modules of the training cover what lawyers should know about elder abuse; practical and ethical strategies to use when facing challenges in this area; and a primer on domestic violence and sexual assault. This training will expand to include six one-hour modules covering issues relevant to attorneys who may encounter elder abuse victims in the course of their practice.
HHS is supporting the mission by developing a voluntary national adult protective services (APS) data system. Collecting national data on adult mistreatment will help to identify and address many gaps about the number and characteristics of adults who are the victims of maltreatment and the nature of services that are provided by APS agencies to protect these vulnerable adults. In addition, the data will better inform the development of improved, more targeted policy and programmatic interventions.
In addition to informing federal elder justice efforts, the Roadmap has already inspired private stakeholders to take action. For example, as a result of the Roadmap, the Archstone Foundation has funded a project at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California to develop a national training initiative, while other funders, such as the Weinberg Foundation, have begun to consider inquiries and projects outlined in the Roadmap. Likewise, the Brookdale Center for Healthy Aging at Hunter College, The Harry and Jeannette Weinberg Center for Elder Abuse Prevention at the Hebrew Home at Riverdale, and the New York City Elder Abuse Center will be co-sponsoring a symposium in September 2014 focusing on innovations and challenges related to elder abuse multidisciplinary teams, a priority area identified in the Roadmap.
“While federal and state governments certainly have critical roles to play, the battle against elder abuse can only be won with grassroots action at the community and individual level,” said Greenlee. “Turning the tide against elder abuse requires much greater public commitment, so every American will recognize elder abuse when they see it and know what to do if they encounter it.”
Two steps local communities, families, and individuals can take are:
•Learn the signs of elder abuse. The National Center on Elder Abuse, a program of the Administration on Aging at ACL, has developed a helpful Red Flags of Abuse Factsheet (PDF) that lists the signs of and risk factors for abuse and neglect.
•Report suspected abuse when you see it. Contact your local adult protective services agency. Phone numbers for state or local offices can be found at the National Center for Elder Abuse website, or call 1-800-677-1116.
“We must take a stand to ensure that older Americans are safe from harm and neglect. For their contributions to our nation, to our society, and to our lives, we owe them nothing less,” said Associate Attorney General West.
The Elder Justice Roadmap and accompanying materials are at: http://ncea.acl.gov/Library/Gov_Report/docs/EJRP_Roadmap.pdf
Free online training for attorneys is at: https://www.ovcttac.gov/views/dspLegalAssistance.cfm?tab=1#onlinetraining
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Last Modified: 7/9/2014
Red Flags of Abuse
Learn the signs of elder abuse. The National Center on Elder Abuse, a program of the Administration on Aging at ACL, has developed a helpful Red Flags of Abuse Factsheet (PDF) that lists the signs of and risk factors for abuse and neglect.
We are Family: When Elder Abuse, Neglect, and Financial Exploitation Hits Home
By Jeannie Jennings Beidler
Research and popular press report alarming instances of familial elder abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation. The House of Representatives Select Committee on Aging found that older adults are at the greatest risk for abuse, and that in more than two-thirds of substantiated cases, the perpetrator is a family member in a caregiving role—usually an adult child (Elder Serve Act of 2009).
Often there are other contributing factors that fuel elder abuse, which include substance abuse (on the part of the abuser or the victim) and diminished capacity of the elder due to conditions such as dementia (Spencer and Smith, 2000). The following true story illustrates what can happen when these factors come into play.
In October 2005, police were dispatched to my grandparent’s home following a dispute between my parents and my uncle. My uncle, my grandparent’s unemployed adult son who was living in the home, became infuriated when my parents arrived for an unscheduled visit and he refused to let them in. Hearing the commotion, my grandmother appeared and insisted that my parents stay, which further exacerbated my uncle’s anger. In an effort to keep my grandmother inside, there was a scuffle: several glass panes of a door were broken, and my grandmother and my mother sustained cuts. My father called the police.
When law enforcement arrived, they observed that my grandmother and the home were in poor condition, and that my uncle appeared agitated, inebriated, and unclean. My grandparents were reportedly uncooperative, also unclean, and disoriented. They expressed no concerns about endangerment and declined to press charges.
The exterior of my grandparents’ home was in terrible shape, with shattered windows, overgrown landscaping, and broken fencing. Inside, it was filthy and littered with trash. There was little food in the house, but an abundance of alcohol. The police officers insisted this was a case of self-neglect—not of criminal action or intent; they did not create a case or make any further investigation (the only record of the incident was the 911 call that summoned the police). Upon learning that law enforcement would not intervene, my parents, though terrified of my uncle’s retribution, reported their concerns to Adult Protective Services (APS).
Soon thereafter, an APS worker made a home visit. Again, my grandparents denied that their welfare was in jeopardy and refused any offers for assistance. The APS worker made the same observations as did the law enforcement officers: My grandparents were clearly oblivious to the dangers of their environment and required immediate medical attention.
After being persuaded by family, law enforcement, and APS, my grandparents were transported to two different local hospitals. My grandfather was treated for various nonlife–threatening conditions and was discharged within a few days, while my grandmother remained hospitalized for nearly three weeks. I visited often and regularly communicated with the hospital staff about her care. Later, I, along with my parents, uncle, and grandfather, attended a “family meeting” in preparation for my grandmother’s discharge. During the meeting, it became apparent that my grandfather was confused about his wife’s condition and the level of care she would require; he was beginning to show signs of dementia. My uncle agreed to tend to such tasks as transporting his parents to medical appointments, ensuring that prescriptions would be filled in a timely manner, and providing adequate food and water. He also admitted that he had been unemployed for a long time and was working on his sobriety (a glaring “red flag” to me).
Unable to ignore my concerns, I requested a competency evaluation for my grandmother and strongly recommended that she not return home but be assessed for placement in an assisted living facility. I expressed that it was unlikely that my grandparents would receive the care they required should they return home to their son’s care. Nonetheless, it was determined that my grandmother would be discharged to home.
I called frequently in the following weeks. Initially, my grandmother would participate in conversations with some degree of awareness, but this capability slowly faded. More often than not, calls placed would go unanswered. Within months, ensuring my grandparents’ welfare could only be accomplished by contacting authorities to request a check on their welfare. Ultimately, the rest of my family was forced to trust the APS worker, who had promised to closely monitor the situation.
Over the next four years, my grandparent’s home continued to deteriorate. Countless times, concerned neighbors reported suspicious activities to the authorities and APS. My uncle continued to live in the home and, because of unaddressed substance abuse issues, he remained unemployed.
On July 24, 2010, my great-uncle and my husband made an unscheduled visit to my grandparents’ home. The house was in deplorable condition. Despite repeated shouts into the house, there was no response. They called 911. The police arrived quickly and confirmed my grandparents and uncle were inside. They warned my great-uncle and husband that they wouldn’t “last long” when they went inside the house because of the filth and stench, and suggested they call APS. The police made no attempt to rescue my grandparents or confront my uncle. Stunned, my great-uncle and husband left the premises briefly, returning moments later: they were afraid they would not see my grandparents alive again.
Upon seeing them, my uncle was irate and an explosive dispute ensued. Despite my uncle’s unyielding hostility, my great-uncle insisted on seeing my grandparents. He found my grandfather scantily dressed, emaciated and weak, dirty, and lying in his own waste. Down the hall, he found my grandmother, dressed in soiled men’s clothing, immobile, and confined to a tattered mattress. My grandparents were oblivious to their circumstances, and responded pleasantly to my great-uncle.
My uncle became increasingly violent toward my great-uncle and husband. Feeling fearful and helpless, with no support from the police, they left. That afternoon, I learned of the situation. Immediately, I made calls to the police, APS, and the crisis hotline. I called for days before a crisis worker agreed to visit my grandparents. To my amazement, the worker believed my grandparents were not in acute danger. Shocked and frustrated, I questioned her perception of acute danger. Couldn’t she see that my grandparents were suffering and that they had no food, water, heat, or air-conditioning? The supposed top defenders of the defenseless were now my top source of disappointment.
The following morning, I called the police, APS, the crisis hotline, and miscellaneous advocacy groups. I ended each call saying, “My grandparents are going to die if they aren’t helped. What is your name, so I can document that you knew and did nothing!” It was now forty-eight hours since the 911 call on July 24; I feared that my grandparents would die before help reached them. The next day, an APS worker informed me that an intervention was planned for that afternoon and would include her supervisor, paramedics, and the police. I was asked to accompany them, and arrived to find a fleet of ambulances, police cruisers, and official government cars in front of my grandparents’ home.
When my great-uncle and husband had described to me the conditions they had found, they had spared me the worst details: black mold covered the walls and ceilings; and it was difficult to breathe due to the intense stench of feces, urine, and rotting trash. The cupboards were bare, the refrigerator inoperative, and there was no running water for drinking, bathing, or cleaning. With no operable HVAC system, the sweltering heat was unbearable. The once-beautiful brick home was now a complete eyesore.
I found my grandparents just as my great-uncle had described. My grandfather was wearing the same undergarment and was sitting in the same urinesaturated chair. Paramedics immediately removed him from the home—against his will— and transported him to the ER. He was in a life-threatening condition and unable to maintain consciousness due to extremely high blood pressure. My grandmother was curled up in the fetal position upon a rotting mattress. Maggots were swarming in the waste that she was forced to lie in. Oblivious to the horror of her environment, my grandmother greeted me with enthusiasm.
For hours, the intervention team and I tried to persuade my grandmother to go to the hospital. She refused, stating there was nothing wrong with her. When the APS workers informed her she could not live in such conditions, my grandmother was grossly offended. She told the worker that she had a beautiful home and scolded her for being so critical. Then, at 5:00 p.m., the APS workers prepared to depart. Panicking, I pleaded with them not to leave, but their day was over. They left. Dismayed, I called the afterhours crisis unit.
The crisis worker was familiar with the case because of my many calls over the past four days. She expressed frustration that APS had made no attempt to get an emergency custody order and had passed the case off. Once at the house, the worker quickly surveyed the premises and looked in on my grandmother. Promising that the “nonsense” would end, within an hour she obtained an emergency custody order and instructed paramedics to remove my grandmother from her home. Though my grandmother was hysterical, I was relieved. Both of my grandparents were finally safe.
In the following days, I acquainted myself with the hospital staff in order to help monitor my grandparents’ conditions and to protect them from my uncle. One day, a nurse informed me that my uncle had visited, and it appeared that my grandmother was signing checks for him. While my grandparents were fighting for their lives, my uncle was still using their funds.
The Court Case
I hastened to make a plan for my grandparents’ discharge and to institute a measure of protection for them from my uncle. I felt like a sitting duck, appearing calm and cool on the water’s surface, but paddling like mad underneath.
Despite making phone calls for a full day, nothing was accomplished. During my final call, I was referred to an Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney (ACA) who was known as a staunch elder advocate. Expecting to reach her voicemail, I was elated when she answered in person. She listened as I explained the situation and my concerns, instructing me to come to the courthouse the next morning and bring any photos and documentation: she would arrange a hearing to request an order of protection for my grandparents. I thanked her and began preparing for the unconventional court appearance (so called because in the eyes of the law, I had no legal authority to request a protective order). Luckily, while at my grandparents’ house during the intervention, I had used my cell phone to take photographs and video recordings; and I prepared a succinct presentation of the circumstances.
The next morning, I met briefly with the ACA who helped me muster the courage to go before the judge.
The judge listened to my story, but explained that I could not ask for this kind of protective order against my uncle on behalf of my grandparents. He said that such an order could only be solicited by the person in need of protection, the next of kin (if the person is unable to make such a petition), or the legal guardian. I stated that none of these parties were able to make the request, and that my grandparents were in grave danger. The judge, with some hesitation, granted a temporary protective order and explained that I should return in two weeks for another hearing to determine if a permanent protective order was necessary.
The judge then asked why my uncle had not been arrested. The ACA clarified that my family had been making reports for years, and that APS was involved, but that a case was never created. Dissatisfied with this, the judge directed the ACA to call the police to get a warrant for my uncle’s arrest. He also advised that I should take the necessary steps to become the legal guardian and conservator for my grandparents. He allowed that this would cost me thousands of dollars in legal fees and require proving my grandparents’ legal incapacity, but would give me the authority to represent my grandparents’ best interests. Finally, he informed me that in order to represent my grandparents at the permanent protective order hearing in two weeks, I would have to confirm that I had initiated this complex legal process.
By mid-afternoon, I had been interviewed by several police officers and a warrant against my uncle was obtained. He was arrested and incarcerated. The sergeant in charge apologized that his unit had failed my family and assured me that he would do whatever necessary to be of assistance. Though saddened by the measures taken that day, I felt victorious—and exhausted; I knew this undertaking would be all-consuming. Upon returning home, I contacted my employer to request an extended leave of absence (which later led to my resignation).
My mission was to care for my grandparents. Although I lacked the legal authority to act on their behalf, my family respected my wishes, for no one else was similarly involved. I decided to relocate my grandparents to a nursing home near me and hired legal representation for the guardian/ conservatorship proceedings. I worked closely with the ACA and investigators to prosecute my uncle for abusing and neglecting my grandparents. My uncle remained incarcerated, with his requests for bond denied three times.
Trying to put together the pieces of my grandparent’s lives was difficult since both were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s-type dementia. I discovered dozens of delinquent accounts that had gone to collection— tens of thousands of dollars in debts. I found out that every day my uncle would persuade my grandmother to write him a check, telling her the money was for household bills. He would cash the check at a convenience store, buy a case of beer, and drink it while sitting in my grandparents’ driveway. He also abused a variety of prescription drugs.
Further investigation revealed that the city’s building inspector was aware of the situation: the inspector had made multiple visits to the property and had left numerous citations for the hazardous environmental conditions. Unfortunately, no action was taken to report these findings to the authorities, despite the fact that the inspector knew an elderly couple resided in the home with their son. Within two weeks of the intervention, the property was condemned. The home, once valued at $175,000, was reappraised and reassessed. With the permission of the Commissioner of Accounts, I sold the house to an investor for its true value of $32,000, in order to pay my grandparents’ debts and mounting medical expenses.
Through numerous court appearances and continuances over an eight-month period, my uncle avoided going to trial. With an overwhelming amount of evidence, he eventually pleaded guilty to two felony charges of the abuse and neglect of an incapacitated adult. He was sentenced to ten years on each charge and mandated to serve three years incarcerated and seventeen on probation.
My grandfather passed away four months after the intervention and my grandmother joined him eleven months later. Though a tragic story, I find great peace in knowing that they were well cared for and happy during their final months of life. This was my life’s most challenging and demanding period, but it was also the most meaningful. I will forever cherish my memories of my grandparents.
In retrospect, there were ample opportunities for professionals to intervene. In order to prevent elder abuse and neglect in the future, there must be better inter-agency communication, more personal responsibility taken by agency staff members, collaboration between well-trained professionals, and increased community awareness. Focused research, preventative programs, reformed policies and practices, and increased social awareness of what constitutes elder abuse can help to protect older people and, ultimately, eradicate this heartbreaking problem.
Jeannie Jennings Beidler has a degree in social work from George Mason University and fifteen years of related work experience. Learn more about this case through her blog, “My Journal; Their Journey,” at www.jennings411.weebly.com. Beidler can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Elder Serve Act of 2009, H. R. 973, 111th Cong. (2009). www.gpo.gov/ fdsys/pkg/BILLS-111hr973ih/pdf/ BILLS-111hr973ih.pdf (PDF). Retrieved July 2012.
Spencer, C., and Smith, J. 2000. “Elder Abuse & Substance Abuse: Making the Connection.” Nexus, a publication for NCPEA affiliates. Retrieved July 2012.
Editor’s Note: This article is taken from the Fall 2012 issue of ASA’s quarterly journal, Generations, an issue devoted to the topic “Elder Abuse and the Elder Justice Movement in America” ASA members receive Generations as a membership benefit; non-members may purchase subscriptions or single copies of issues at our online store. Full digital access to current and back issues of Generations is also available to ASA members and Generations subscribers at MetaPress.
An earlier version of this article first appeared in the quarterly newsletter, Age in Action (Volume 27, No. 1, Winter 2012), published by the Virginia Center on Aging, Richmond, Virginia.
Senior Fraud Protection Kit
Source: Home Instead Senior Care Network
"Scammed: It's the only word no family caregiver wants to hear when it comes to a senior loved one." -Home Instead Senior Care Network.
Check out this excellent "Senior Fraud Protection Kit" developed by Home Instead Senior Care Network.
Elder Abuse: The Size of the Problem
Elder Abuse: The Size of the Problem
Elder mistreatment (i.e. abuse and neglect) is defined as intentional actions that cause harm or create a serious risk of harm (whether or not harm is intended) to a vulnerable elder by a caregiver or other person who stands in a trust relationship to the elder. This includes failure by a caregiver to satisfy the elder’s basic needs or to protect the elder from harm.
Unfortunately, we simply do not know for certain how many people are suffering from elder abuse and neglect. It appears that female elders are abused at a higher rate than males and that the older one is, the more likely one is to be abused.
Signs of elder abuse may be missed by professionals working with older Americans because of lack of training on detecting abuse. The elderly may be reluctant to report abuse themselves because of fear of retaliation, lack of physical and/or cognitive ability to report, or because they don’t want to get the abuser (90% of whom are family members) in trouble.
Below is a sampling of findings that show what is known about the incidence and prevalence of elder abuse and neglect:
•The most recent major studies on incidence reported that 7.6%–10% of study participants experienced abuse in the prior year. The study that found an incidence of 1 in 10 adults experiencing abuse did not include financial abuse.
•Available data from state Adult Protective Services (APS) agencies show an increasing trend in the reporting of elder abuse.
•Despite the accessibility of APS in all 50 states (whose programs are quite different), as well as mandatory reporting laws for elder abuse in most states, an overwhelming number of cases of abuse, neglect, and exploitation go undetected and untreated each year.
•One study estimated that only 1 in 14 cases of elder abuse ever comes to the attention of authorities.9 The New York State Elder Abuse Prevalence Study found that for every case known to programs and agencies, 24 were unknown.10
•Major financial exploitation was self-reported at a rate of 41 per 1,000 surveyed, which was higher than self-reported rates of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse or neglect.
Wise Charitable Giving
Esther received a phone call from a charity that had a name similar to a national cystic fibrosis organization. Touched by the thought of helping children, she agreed to make a donation. Later, she saw a news report that the organization was not the charity she thought it was, but a scam operation.
The generosity of seniors makes them a favorite target of charity scams. To make the best use of your charitable dollars, always follow these rules:
• Never agree to give money over the phone. Never give credit card or other personal information to a telephone solicitor. If the charity is unfamiliar, ask the caller to send written information about the charity and its work, and read it before making your decision. If someone asking for your donation won’t agree give you information until after you have contributed, don’t contribute - you should never have to make a pledge to have more information sent to you.
• Call the Michigan Attorney General's Office, Charitable Trust Section at 1-517-373-1152, or visit the Attorney General's website at www.michigan.gov/agcharities to find out if the charity is registered in Michigan, as required. Because not all charities are required to be registered, call our office if the organization is not listed.
• The Attorney General’s Charitable Trust Section can tell you what percentage of your donation is used for the organization’s charitable mission. While most charities pay outside companies to solicit donations over the phone, in person, or by mail, a few charities permit professional fund-raisers to keep a substantial portion of donors’ money – as much as 90% of donations – as their fee. Investigate before you give!
Remember to BEWARE when you are asked to donate to a charity and encounter any of these warning signs:
Bills or invoices sent to you even though you never pledged money to the organization. Evasive, vague, or unresponsive answers to specific questions about the charity and how money is used. Words making up a charity's name that closely resemble a more well-known charity. Allowing no time to reconsider your pledge; they insist on collecting your donation immediately. Refusal to answer questions about where your money will go, refusal to send information about the charity, or refusal to provide a receipt. Emotional appeals and high-pressure tactics to get you to make a quick decision or feel guilty about not contributing.
Home Improvement Scams
Aretha noticed a leak in her living room ceiling and called a plumber. The plumber told her that all her bathroom pipes were broken and needed to be replaced, at a cost of $1,500. He said she risked an electrical fire if she didn’t have the work done. She sought a second opinion. The other plumber found that the problem was only some failed caulking around the bathtub.
Home repair fraud is often aimed at senior citizens. Unscrupulous repair persons sometimes use scare tactics to pressure people to have unnecessary, expensive repairs made. They overcharge for shoddy work, or take money and then never show up to do the work.
One of the most common kinds of home repair fraud involves offers from transient work crews. Strangers knock on your door and say they’ve been working in your neighborhood and have some extra material left. They offer to seal your driveway or fix your roof for a discount, but they take your money and then disappear.
Another scam involves strangers who knock on your door and offer to do a free inspection of your furnace, chimney, or drinking water. Once inside, they pretend to find a serious health or safety problem requiring expensive repairs. Even worse, they may only be trying to get inside your home to steal money or valuables from you.
Be cautious when they demand cash payment or indicate the offer is only good for that day. Don’t let yourself be pressured.
It’s best to say no thanks to these unsolicited offers, and to not open your door to strangers. Instead, get recommendations for home improvement companies from satisfied friends and neighbors.
- Shop around for a contractor, getting price estimates from several. When requesting an estimate, ask if there is a charge. A smart shopper would also get two or more references on each contractor.
- Get references to see if the work was done properly, on schedule, and at the agreed price.
- Insist on a detailed contract. The contract should include: a specific description of the work to be done, materials, labor cost, timetable, payment schedule, start/ending dates, names of subcontractors, warranty agreements, and cleanup and financing arrangements.
- Check to see if the contractor has been disciplined or if the license has been suspended or revoked. Builders and contractors are licensed by the Licensing Division of the Bureau of Commercial Services, Michigan Department of Licensing & Regulatory Affairs. You may visit the Licensing Division's website, at www.michigan.gov/lara, and click on the links for "Bureau of Commercial Services" and then "Licensing Services." You can also reach the Licensing Division at 1-517-373-8376.
The Bureau's home page for Residential Builders, Maintenance and Alteration Contractors provides general information on issues relating to builders' licenses, including additional tips for consumers.
Consumers may visit the Bureau of Commercial Services' website to verify current license status and check for prior disciplinary action. If possible, use the builder's license number as well as the name of the builder and the business name.
Decisions issued in response to formal complaints are also accessible online.
If you would like to file a complaint against a builder, or check to see if there are complaints about a specific builder, you may also call the Licensing Services Division at 1-517-373-8376 or write to:
Bureau of Commercial Services P.O. Box 30018 Lansing, MI 48909
Remember: Always check a home improvement contractor’s license and complaint history by calling the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division, at 1-877-765-8388, and the Bureau of Commercial Services, at 1-517-373-8376.
Five Ways to Protect Yourself During Open Enrollment
As the new health insurance Marketplaces get underway, scammers have begun to surface, ready to take advantage of those who may not realize they are giving personal and financial information to fraudulent people.
Here are 5 tips to protect your identity and finances during Open Enrollment season:
1. Trust your instincts.
If something does not feel right, then it probably is a scam. When someone calls you on the phone claiming to be a government employee and needing to know your personal information, such as asking for you to verify your Social Security number or requesting credit card information—stop! No government worker will call you asking for this information. Do not give this information to an unknown person, especially over the phone.
2. Keep Medicare cards private and in a safe place.
Treat your Medicare card the way you would your Social Security card—in a safe place.
3. Discern legitimate mail from scam mail.
Mailings and letters from government agencies, such as Medicare and Social Security, will have an official government seal and/or logo on it. Keep this mail, don’t overlook it. Other flyers, letters, or postcards claiming to be from “Medicare” that don’t have these seals/logos should be set aside. Do not respond to them unless you can verify that they are legitimate.
4. When in doubt, call them out.
When someone calls you and asks for personal health or financial information, do not feel obligated to respond. Ask them for their name, number, address, and the name of their agency/company. Tell them that you first need to verify who they are representing. Someone who is legitimately trying to assist you will provide you with the information and understand your need to be a safe consumer.
5. Report it.
For every one person who reports a fraudulent scam, there are likely 10 other people who experienced the same thing but either were afraid to speak up or didn’t know who to call. Beyond telling a friend or a family member about your experience, it is important to report when you believe that you have been the victim of identity theft or a scam to an official, including the police and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), so appropriate action can be taken and to help prevent others from becoming victims. You can file a complaint online, using the FTC Complaint Assister.
ID Theft – Tips to Reduce Your Risk
Ichiro received a phone call from an auto finance company that said it was going to repossess his truck. Ichiro did not own a truck. He found out that someone using his name and Social Security number had applied for a car loan and had never made the payments. He also found out this same stranger had opened up two credit accounts in Ichiro’s name and charged thousands of dollars.
When someone else uses your name, Social Security number, bank account number, credit card number, or any other personal identifying information to commit fraud, it’s called identity theft. The imposter may open credit accounts, get a driver’s license, or rent an apartment in your name, and wreak havoc with your finances. An identity thief may even rack up criminal charges or declare bankruptcy in your name.
You should suspect identity theft if: you receive a letter from a bank or creditor confirming your recent change of address–and you haven’t moved; you receive a call or letter stating that you have been approved or denied credit for which you never applied; or a collection agency says it is trying to collect on an account that you didn’t open.
To reduce your vulnerability of becoming a victim of identity theft:
• Don't give personal information over the phone, through the mail, or on the Internet unless you've initiated the contact. Thieves lie to trick you into disclosing information. Don't hesitate to end the communication and if necessary follow-up at a number or address you know to be accurate (i.e., the number you find in the phone book or on your billing statement).
• Treat your mail and trash carefully. Place outgoing mail in a secure collection box and promptly remove mail from your mailbox.
• Tear or shred private records including charge receipts, credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, checks and bank statements, expired charge cards that you're discarding, and credit offers. Also shred anything that has your Social Security number or an account number.
• Stop mail credit offers by calling toll-free 1-888-567-8688 or visiting www.optoutprescreen.com. You will be asked to provide your Social Security number so the consumer reporting companies can match your request with your file. These systems are automated, so you won't be able to speak to an operator when you call.
• Carefully and promptly review statements and bills for unauthorized charges or fraudulent use. Make a written report of any problems.
• Don't carry your Social Security card or number; instead leave it in a secure place.
• Don't leave personal information where others can see it, particularly if you have roommates, employ outside help, or are having work done in your home.
• If you need to order check refills, instead of having your checks mailed to you, pick them up at your bank or credit union.
• Limit the information on personal checks. Your middle name, phone number, Social Security number and driver's license number do not have to be on your checks.
• Keep a secure master list or photocopies of all important identification and account numbers – driver's license, Social Security card, credit cards, bank and utility account numbers, expiration dates, and the phone numbers of the customer service fraud departments of your card issuers. Keep in a safe place - but not your purse, wallet, or a car – so that you can respond quickly in case your identification is lost or stolen.
• Check your credit reports every four months. Use the form attached at Appendix A if you wish to do so by mail. You may also order reports by phone at 1-877-322-8228, or online at www.annualcreditreport.com. You are entitled to one free report from each of the three credit reporting agencies each year. Remember to request that only the last four digits of your Social Security number appear on your report.
• If you do not think you will need to apply for credit in the near future, you may also wish to consider adding a "security freeze" to your credit reports. A "security freeze" essentially locks, or freezes, your credit reports – that means that potential creditors and other third parties will not be able to get access to your credit report unless you temporarily lift the freeze. For more information on how to place security freezes on your credit reports, please see the Attorney General's consumer alert entitled "Security Freeze Information for Michigan Consumers," available at www.michigan.gov/ag.
If you discover that someone is using your identity fraudulently, immediately report it to one of the consumer reporting companies: Equifax: 1-800-846-5279; Experian 1-888-397-3742; or TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289. The company you call is required to contact the other two companies. Also close the accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently, and file a report with your local police. These and other steps are detailed in the Federal Trade Commission's publication, "Take Charge: Fighting Back Against Identity Theft" available at www.ftc.gov/idtheft.
Home Medical Equipment Scams
Home Medical Equipment Scams
Jose was having problems climbing the stairs in his house, so he called a company that advertised it sold stairlifts. A salesman came to his house and promised to install the stairlift within two weeks, and took a payment of $2,000 from Jose. However, months passed and the company didn’t deliver the stairlift, but kept coming up with excuses. Jose finally sued and got some of his money back.
There are many reputable and reliable home medical equipment suppliers, but unfortunately there are also those that charge for equipment they never deliver or sell seniors expensive equipment they don’t really need. They sometimes imply or promise that Medicare will pay for the equipment when that may not be true, and the senior is stuck with expensive bills. Some examples of tactics the salespeople use are staying in your home for a lengthy period of time, preventing you from asking others’ advice, and setting up equipment that is hard to move.
Before buying home medical equipment:
• Get advice from your doctor, hospital discharge planner, or physical therapist, NOT from a salesperson. They know what your needs are better than a salesperson, and they can likely direct you to honest, reputable sellers of home equipment.
• Check the company’s reputation with your health care specialist. Call the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at 1-877-765-8388 to see if complaints have been filed against the company.
• Be suspicious if the company does not have a store, showroom, or office you can visit.
• Consult your proper medical authorities to verify when equipment is lauded as a “breakthrough” answer to a common ailment.
• Beware of companies that promote themselves as representatives of Medicare, or send literature having Medicare emblems, leading you to believe Medicare endorses their product or service. Medicare does not solicit by telephone or mail and does not authorize anyone to do so. Medicare does not supply equipment, recommend specific suppliers, or provide beneficiary names to suppliers.
• If the medical equipment is something that needs to be installed in the home, call the Licensing Division with the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, at 1-517-373-8376, to see if the company is licensed.
Funeral and Cemetery Scams
According to the FBI, senior citizens are often victims of crimes and scams. Funeral and cemetery fraud often targets senior citizens because the victims’ realization that they have been swindled may take weeks—or more likely, years—after contact with the fraudster . This extended time frame makes it even more difficult to remember details from the events.
They may never even discover they've been scammed, leaving it up to their loved ones to deal with the fallout during their time of loss.
Tips for Avoiding Funeral and Cemetery Fraud:
◾Be an informed consumer. Take time to call and shop around before making a purchase. Take a friend with you who may offer some perspective to help make difficult decisions. Funeral homes are required to provide detailed general price lists over the telephone or in writing.
◾Educate yourself fully about caskets before you buy one, and understand that caskets are not required for direct cremations.
◾Understand the difference between funeral home basic fees for professional services and any fees for additional services.
◾Know that embalming rules are governed by state law and that embalming is not legally required for direct cremations.
◾Carefully read all contracts and purchasing agreements before signing and make certain that all of your requirements have been put in writing.
◾Make sure you understand all contract cancelation and refund terms, as well as your portability options for transferring your contract to other funeral homes.
◾Before you consider prepaying, make sure you are well informed. When you do make a plan for yourself, share your specific wishes with those close to you.
◾As a general rule governing all of your interactions as a consumer, do not allow yourself to be pressured into making purchases, signing contracts, or committing funds. These decisions are yours and yours alone.