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Preventing fraud, elder abuse, guardianship problems
and romance scams

November 30, 2015

Tags: elder abuse, fraud, guardianships, identity theft, phone calls from IRS

by Pat McNees (updated 1-12-17; 8-25-16; 7-30-16; originally posted 11-3-15, updated April 30, 2016)

Gathered here are links to helpful articles about the many kinds of abuse elders may be subject to (including physical, sexual, and financial abuse) and steps they can take to avoid fraud and scams. Sadly, their abusers may be friends, family, caregivers, and professional advisors. Do your homework and protect yourself and those you care about. Let's start with Financial Abuse of the Elderly: Sometimes Unnoticed, Always Predatory (Elizabeth Olson, NY Times, 11-27-15) Mariana Cooper, a widow in Seattle who lost her home and now lives in a retirement community, is one of an estimated five million older American residents annually who are victimized to some extent by a caregiver, friend, family member, lawyer or financial adviser.
• "10 Ways to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft," scroll down for this, on this Scottrade page: Secure Online Investing & Identity Theft Protection
Smart Tips for Protecting Yourself from ATM Fraud and Theft (Scottrade)
Phone Scams Continue to be a Serious Threat, Remain on IRS “Dirty Dozen” List of Tax Scams for the 2016 Filing SeasonThe IRS will never:
---Call to demand immediate payment, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill.
---Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
---Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.
---Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
---Threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.
Do not give out any information. Hang up immediately.
How to avoid and detect Elder Fraud: A guide for older people, carers and relatives (Jon Watson, Comparitech, 8-2-17)
That is NOT the IRS Calling You! (Michelle Singletary, WaPo, 8-25-16)
I.R.S. Calling to Demand Cash? Don’t Pay Up. Hang Up. (David Segal, Wash Post, 2-28-16) About 900,000 people have reported getting a call from I.R.S. phone scammers, and not all of these people hung up unscathed. The IRS will NEVER call you to demand money. Just hang up.
“She Stole My Life!”: A Cautionary True Tale About Identity Theft Everyone Must Read (Doug Shadel, AARP on Reader's Digest, Oct.-Nov. 2014) "A few miles away, Alice Lipski was taking over Anderson’s identity. She signed Anderson up for a credit-monitoring service that was designed to protect customers from identity theft. Instead, it exposed her full credit history. The report revealed a mother lode of old accounts; over her life, Anderson had acquired dozens of cards from stores and banks. Most were inactive. Lipski reported those as lost or stolen, so the companies assigned new numbers with new usernames, passwords, and security questions that only Lipski knew, locking Anderson out of the accounts. “I knew everything about her,” Lipski says. “And what I didn’t know, I changed to what I wanted it to be.” She ordered Anderson’s mail forwarded to Lipski’s boyfriend’s house, then to a post office box. Since Anderson still received junk mail, it took weeks for her to notice that checks and bills had stopped coming."
Where to get started when you suspect you have a problem with identity theft (IdentityTheft.gov, Federal Trade Commission)
Fraud Watch Network (AARP). Fraud Watch Hotline: 1-877-908-3360

AARP Watchdog Alert Handbook (PDF). 13 ways con artists steal your money.
The Kindness of Strangers . Barbara Peters Smith's three-part investigative series for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune exposing tragic gaps in Florida’s system of senior guardianships (called conservatorships in other states). Florida’s elder guardianship system was set up to protect vulnerable citizens from fraud, abuse or neglect. But critics say the system often ignores individual rights, virtually imprisoning some elders who are not incapacitated. And most guardianship decisions are made in hearings and files closed to the public. (And Florida is one of the good states!)
---Part 1: Elder guardianship: A well-oiled machine Florida's system of guardianship for helpless elders — easily set in motion, but notoriously difficult to stop — often ignores basic individual rights.
--- Part 2: Elder Guardianship: Between a rock and a hard place
---Update: Bunny and Claflin Garst A bitter court battle ended with a paid professional guardian in charge of her husband’s finances and his private life.
---Guardian put ex-husband in "rat's nest". Florida’s underfunded elder guardianship system subsists mostly on the assets of its thousands of wards.
---Elder guardianship: Listening to the elders Linda-Kaye Bous insists she does not belong in the assisted-living facility for dementia patients where her guardian has placed her, yet she does not have the right to go home
---Linda-Kaye Bous, 66, talks about life in a facility for dementia patients.
---Update: Claudine and Thomas O'Connor. The couple met late in life, married and had an apparently idyllic existence on Longboat Key until their failing memories embroiled them in separate guardianships — in the midst of a feud between the offspring of their first marriages.
---Elder Guardianship: Where to learn more
---The elder guardianship system in Florida (PDF, graphic depiction of how it works, a little slow loading)

Probe shows court-appointed guardians often not screened or monitored (Jen Christensen, CNN, 10-27-10)
Why Have Our Parents Become Targets for Financial Abuse? (Robert Mauterstock, HuffPost,10-5-15) Scam artists go where the money is. Forty-four percent of all wealth in America lies with older Americans.

Fight Back Against Scams in Your State (AARP's Fraud Watch Network). Sign up for alerts.

Frank Abagnale Will Catch You If You Scam (Hugh Delehanty, AARP Bulletin, May 2016) Useful tips on how to avoid being scammed or ripped off: Shred everything with a micro-shedder from which information could be used to raid your bank or other account (e.g., bills, receipts, bank statements); use credit bureau services that let you know if someone is trying to use your credit; don't use a straight-on photo of yourself on social media; never post your full date of birth or where you were born as those are two keys to open your identity.

Stop Theft From Elders: A Checklist to Age-Proof a Home Against Theft This is on the helpful website of elder law attorney Paula McCann: On the Way to Dying See also How to Stop Thefts from Elders and the Dead. "Preventing thefts and recovering assets stolen from vulnerable adults, elders and the dead has been the focus of my elder law practice for the past decade."

Elder Abuse (GAO Fact Sheet)
Elder Abuse and Neglect (Help.com)
What If I Suspect Abuse, Neglect, or Exploitation? (Administration on Aging, AoA)
Dehydration in Nursing Home Patients (ConsumerDangers.com)
Reporting Nursing Home Abuse (ConsumerDangers.com)

Money Smart for Older Adults (download free PDF, from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation)
Planning for Diminished Capacity and Illness (download free PDF, from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Securities and Exchange Commission)

Home Is Where the Fraud Is by David Dayen, on Longreads. The true story of how a group of ordinary Americans took on the nation’s banks at the height of the housing crisis, calling into question fraudulent foreclosure practices. A long excerpt from Chain of Title: How Three Ordinary Americans Uncovered Wall Street's Great Foreclosure Fraud by David Dayan.
"Chain of Title is a sweeping work of investigative journalism that traces the arc of a criminally underreported story in America, the collapse of the rule of law in the home mortgage industry. By following three victims of illegal foreclosure practices, Dayen humanizes and brilliantly illuminates a vast scam unseen by the public because it’s been indecipherable to everyone but a few industrious housing lawyers—as he shows, even judges don’t understand it. The nightmare scavenger-hunt pursued by homeowners like Lisa Epstein leads to a horror-ending: behind the dream of home ownership lies a lawless jungle, owned and operated by banks, where there are no rules to protect families and their property."
—Matt Taibbi, author of The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap

"License to Steal" From Seniors: How to Protect the Elderly from the People They've Chosen to Trust (Business Week 5-31-06) Eighty-seven-year-old Elizabeth suspected something was awry when her son told her she couldn't afford to move into an upscale assisted living facility. A few years before, she had given her son durable power of attorney... Elizabeth knew she had the money, and when she questioned him about the shortage of funds, he just told her she was wrong. Elizabeth, wary of her son's response, told a friend who contacted Pennsylvania's Adult Protective Services (APS). An investigation by the agency revealed that her son had transferred $225,000 from her account into his own.... 80,000 such cases were reported the previous year, and more than two-thirds of the victims were defrauded by someone close to them.

Fraudsters’ Latest Target: The Already Defrauded (Ann Carns, Your Money, NY Times, 2-12-16) So-called asset-recovery firms target people who have lost money in another type of fraud — often, a bogus work-at-home scheme or a fake time share investment, according to an advisory issued this week by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

1 in 5 Seniors Has Fallen Prey to a Financial Swindle, But This Is Just the Tip of the Iceberg (Martha T.S. Laham, HuffPost, 8-11-15)

Growing Kind of Elder Abuse: Marrying Seniors for Their Money (Cathy Cassata, Healthline, 9-15-15) Lack of legal repercussions puts seniors at risk of marriage scams, experts say. And it’s happening more often.
Romance Scams. Among other stories about this old way to scam lonely people: 'Are You Real?' — Inside an Online Dating Scam (Doug Shadel and David Dudley, AARP, June/July 2015). A Nigerian con man steals one woman's heart — and $300,000. Here's how it happened.
Elder Abuse – A National Tragedy (Ashley Carson Cottingham, Compassion & Choices). A rarely discussed form of elder abuse occurs when an older adult’s expressed wishes at the end of life are ignored, and as a result they are subjected to unwanted and invasive medical treatment.
New breed of investor profits by financing surgeries for desperate women patients (Alison Frankel and Jessica Dye, Reuters Investigates, 8-18-15) In the little known world of medical lending, financiers invest in operations to remove pelvic implants from women suing device makers - and reap an inflated share of the payouts when cases settle.
State Resources (National Center on Elder Abuse, NCEA) Click on the state or territory on this map to see a directory listing of state reporting numbers, government agencies, state laws, state-specific data and statistics, and other resources.
Eldercare Locator (click on topic, including elder abuse prevention, and type in zip code)
Elder Abuse Prevention (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
Understanding Elder Abuse (CDC)
Elder Abuse: Definitions
Statistics on elder abuse (National Center on Elder Abuse, NCEA) The size of the problem, relation to dementia, who are the perpetrators, abuse of those with disabilities, abuse in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, impact of elder abuse)
Elder Mistreatment: Priorities for Consideration by the White House Conference on Aging (Karl Pillemer, Marie-Therese Connolly, Risa Breckman, Nathan Spreng, and Mark S. Lachs, The Gerontologist, 2014)
Doctors, lawyers and even the bank can help identify elder abuse (Shefali Luthra, Kaiser Health News, Bangor Daily News, 11-17-15) Elder abuse, which can take the form of sexual or emotional abuse, physical violence and even financial manipulation, affects at least 10 percent of older Americans, according to a review article in the Nov. 12 New England Journal of Medicine. Elder abuse can happen to residents in nursing homes or those living with family members. The “young old” are more likely to be affected.
When Love Hurts: The Heartbreak of Elder Abuse (Robert B. Blancato, Huff Post, 2-11-14) According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, one-third of abused children will eventually abuse their children. Many social service agencies attempt to educate victims of child abuse in order to stop the cycle of violence. However, one part of this cycle that is often overlooked is the role of the abused child as a caregiver for his or her abusive parent in the later years of life.

Scams and fraud schemes that target seniors
Common Fraud Schemes That Target Senior Citizens. This FBI site describe es important variations on fraud and scams involving health care, health insurance, counterfeit prescription drugs, funeral and cemetery arrangements, anti-aging products, investment schemes, and reverse mortgages. Telemarketing scams often involve offers of free prizes, low-cost vitamins and health care products, and inexpensive vacations.)
StopFraud.gov (The Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force's advice on how to protect yourself from health/medicare fraud, identity theft, phone and Internet fraud, mortgage and lending fraud, securities and investment fraud, tax fraud, and other dangers)
• To discourage sales calls, fraudulent and otherwise:
---National Do Not Call Registry
---Opt Out of Unsolicited Mail, Telemarketing, and Email (Federal Trade Commission
Different Types of Identity Theft (Michael Osakwe, NextAdvisor, 1-10-17) Financial, banking, medical, social media, criminal -- five types of identity theft, how to protect yourself, and what to do if you fall victim.
7 quick tasks to protect your ID (Karen Haywood Queen, CreditCards.com, 1-7-16) Got 10 minutes? Then you can take a step to prevent identity theft
Keeping Our Seniors Safe From Scams (Heather R. Chubb, ElderCareMatters.com). Popular scams for elders include surveys (they do NOT have to fill them out) and letters or emails about sweepstakes and lottery winners.
• Sites recommended to check a charity's status include
---Charity Navigator
---Charity Watch ,
---Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance
• Monitor credit reports often to watch for fraud. This is a reputable site for requesting a free annual credit card: AnnualCreditReport.com.
• If you don't want to receive pre-screened offers of credit and insurance, you can opt out of receiving them for five years or opt out of receiving them permanently here, online (https:.//www.optoutprescreen.com/, or, if you don't have access to the Internet, you may send a written request to permanently opt out to each of the major consumer reporting companies. Make sure your request includes your home telephone number, name, Social Security number, and date of birth.
Experian
Opt Out
P.O. Box 919
Allen, TX 75013

TransUnion
Name Removal Option
P.O. Box 505
Woodlyn, PA 19094

Equifax, Inc.
Options
P.O. Box 740123
Atlanta, GA 30374

Innovis Consumer Assistance
P.O. Box 495
Pittsburgh, PA 15230

Identity theft and the top 12 tax scams of 2013 ( Peter O'Dowd, Marketplace Morning Report 5-15-13)
Consumer information on identity theft (what to do and types of identity theft to specify)
Hacked and Hijacked: What to Do if Your E-mail Account Gets Compromised (Jon Chase, Switched, 2-24-11). Preventive advice includes this: "Set up at least two new e-mail addresses. Use your original e-mail address for personal or business communication as you'd normally do. The secondary e-mail address is insurance against future hacks; use it to communicate with your service provider, since many now ask for an alternative address as added protection. Then, use a third e-mail address only for registering for sites, newsletters, online shopping and other services. It may seem paranoid and excessive (hey, that's us!), but the idea is to compartmentalize your online life a bit. That way, each "world" has its own discrete e-mail account, and will minimize the damage that can be done by any future hacks."

How Stories Deceive by Maria Konnikova, a fascinating (long) story in the New Yorker, makes it clear how we can be conned by a good storyteller. "When we’re immersed in a story, we let down our guard. We focus in a way we wouldn’t if someone were just trying to catch us with a random phrase or picture or interaction....In those moments of fully immersed attention, we may absorb things, under the radar, that would normally pass us by or put us on high alert. Later, we may find ourselves thinking that some idea or concept is coming from our own brilliant, fertile minds, when, in reality, it was planted there by the story we just heard or read." From the book The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It . . . Every Time by Maria Konnikova

Home Is Where the Fraud Is by David Dayen, on Longreads. The true story of how a group of ordinary Americans took on the nation’s banks at the height of the housing crisis, calling into question fraudulent foreclosure practices. A long excerpt from Chain of Title: How Three Ordinary Americans Uncovered Wall Street's Great Foreclosure Fraud by David Dayan.
"Chain of Title is a sweeping work of investigative journalism that traces the arc of a criminally underreported story in America, the collapse of the rule of law in the home mortgage industry. By following three victims of illegal foreclosure practices, Dayen humanizes and brilliantly illuminates a vast scam unseen by the public because it’s been indecipherable to everyone but a few industrious housing lawyers—as he shows, even judges don’t understand it. The nightmare scavenger-hunt pursued by homeowners like Lisa Epstein leads to a horror-ending: behind the dream of home ownership lies a lawless jungle, owned and operated by banks, where there are no rules to protect families and their property." —Matt Taibbi, author of The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap



Aging Panel Looks into Debit Card Scams (PDF, Herb Weiss, Pawtucket Times, 11-21-14) "“Two debit card companies – Green Dot and InComm-- told members of the Senate Aging panel of the decision to drop products favored by fraudsters, even though the products had legitimate uses. Although the third company, Blackhawk, did not drop products, it tightened up its security measures on its similar reloadable debit card product.”
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