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8 Senior Financial Scams You Should Never Fall For

Senior Man Giving Credit Card Details On The Phone

One day you get a call informing you that you’ve won a cash prize, or an invitation to buy into an investment that outperforms the market, or an email telling you that your medical insurer needs your insurance ID. Scenarios like these should raise red flags. While some of the time they may be legitimate, oftentimes these are scams.

As technology becomes more sophisticated, so too do unscrupulous scammers.

“The stereotype is that older adults have more money,” says Brandy Bauer, communications manager for economic security at the National Council on Aging. “That, coupled with the perception that seniors are in cognitive decline, means that older people are a target for economic exploitation.”

Falling victim to a scam can have real consequences. Seniors are often living on a fixed income and don’t have the time to recover and rebuild their savings should fraud lead to a large financial loss, says Bauer.

That said, for many of these scams to work, scammers want you to hand over your personal information. Knowing the red flags to look out for can help you avoid giving out the information they desperately need, protecting you and your assets from falling into the wrong hands.

“The key to avoiding many scams is to stay educated and to continuously monitor your accounts for suspicious activity,” says Liz Loewy, former chief of the elder abuse unit in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office who is now senior vice president for industry relations at EverSafe a service that helps protect seniors from fraud and identity theft.

When in doubt about whether an offer or request is legitimate, it’s best to have a trusted family member or friend take a look, Loewy says.

“It never hurts to have a trusted advocate serve as a second set of eyes,” she says.

What follows are some of the most common scams targeting seniors today.

1. Phone Scams
Scams that take place over the phone are one of the most common types to affect seniors. Some current schemes include people posing as IRS agents to collect personal information (the IRS does not contact you over the phone) and scammers pretending to be technicians from computer companies claiming to have detected a problem with your computer. With little way of verifying a caller’s identify, avoid giving out any personal information over the phone.

Once on the phone, it can be hard for many seniors to say no to caller requests. To avoid being put in an uncomfortable position in the first place, consider screening calls on cell phones and landlines with caller ID. If you don’t recognize the number, don’t pick up.

2. Medicare and Health Insurance Scams
Beware of people posing as medical professionals who request your medical information over the phone or online. Scammers can use your health insurance ID number and other personal information to fraudulently bill Medicare or insurance companies. In the meantime, you could get saddled with copays and percentage-based fees for care you never received.

Also be wary of companies selling durable medical equipment such as wheelchairs, and claims that they’re covered by Medicaid. Since Medicaid has strict rules about which agencies you can use to acquire medical equipment, oftentimes this type of equipment is not actually covered.

Don’t provide your medical information to anyone unless you are 100 percent sure you know who you’re talking to. Review your insurance statements regularly to spot any suspicious activity.

3. Internet and Email Scams
Watch out for pop-ups on your computer, phone or tablet that ask you to download things like virus protection software. Ironically, you may actually be downloading a virus that will mine your computer for personal data.

Similarly, you may receive official-looking emails telling you to download something or click on an unknown link. “Phishing” scammers often use this tactic, and once you click, the scammer is given a porthole into the information stored on your computer. What’s worse, sometimes simply opening these emails is enough to give scammers access to your data.

Before opening any emails, make sure they’re from a legitimate source that you recognize. In general, before entering any personal information online, look for a padlock symbol in your browser bar (near the URL) or a web address that includes HTTPS at the beginning of the URL. Any information you type into a website that includes these markers is encrypted and protected by the website.

4. Sweepstakes and Lottery Scams
Scammers may inform you that you’re the winner of a sweepstakes or lottery prize, and that all you have do to claim your prize is pay a processing fee or taxes upfront. They may go so far as to send a fake check for you to cash, knowing that it will take a few days for your bank to reject it. In the meantime, the fraudster can pocket your money and disappear.

5. Investment Schemes
Seniors managing their finances after retirement may encounter investments that sound too good to be true. That’s because a lot of the time, they are. Investments that purport to be a limited-time offer or claim returns that are higher than the market—think the Bernie Madoff pyramid scheme—should raise red flags for any investor. Make sure you fully understand any kind of investment you’re considering participating in.

6. Asset Recovery Scams
An insidious and increasingly common scheme, asset recovery scams target older adults who have already been the victim of a scam. For example, a perpetrator might contact a senior taken in by a timeshare scam, promising to help the senior recover some of their lost money. The scammers then collect personal information from the senior that gives them access to the senior’s finances — victimizing them twice.

7. Social Media Scams
Increasingly, seniors are on social media, and that means a lot of their personal information is readily available to the public. If you’re on social media, scammers may find photographs of friends and family members, gathering names and other information. Then they contact you, claiming that one of the people you know is in some kind of financial trouble and needs you to send them money. Protect your information on social media by changing privacy settings so that only family and friends can view your profile.

8. Charity Scams
During the end of the year, the holiday season, or after a well-publicized disaster, some scammers try to take advantage of seniors’ charitable instincts by soliciting money for bogus organizations. Before giving, make sure to vet all charities to make sure they are legitimate and that your money will actually go to help those in need.

Will You Be Managing Your Parents’ Finances?

cfpb-documentWhen it comes to the tasks of caregiving, responsibilities such as medication management, running errands or cooking meals frequently come to mind. Yet caregivers often have to assume responsibility for oversight of finances, or even power of attorney, for a loved one. Bills still have to be paid and healthcare decisions must be made. And if families haven’t discussed who will assume power of attorney or how the finances will be managed, the result can be a situation where everyone is stressed and unsure of how to begin the process.

That’s why it’s important to have these discussions well in advance of a crisis and to educate yourself and your parents as to what is involved so everyone is prepared when a situation arises. To help make transitioning into these responsibilities easier, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) created four guides to assist those who will assume the roles of:

  • Power of attorney
  • Court-appointed guardians
  • Trustees
  • Government fiduciaries

If you’re unsure about where to start, you may appreciate the Where to go for help section within each guide. And while there is the disclaimer that the “guides are not intended to provide legal advice or serve as a substitute for your own legal counsel,” the guides nonetheless are an important reference tool for navigating these new responsibilities.

When you have the finances discussion, it is also important to bring up the matter of advance healthcare directives and wills. Not having these documents prepared in advance of a crisis can also result in unfortunate snap decisions and unnecessary hardship. Although the holidays aren’t a time when people want to discuss end-of-life issues because families are together in one place, it is often the best time.

 

When it Comes to Senior Living and Caregiving Advice, What do You Want to Know?

As the end of this year approaches we begin to plan our stories and articles for next. While we have practical advice and topics related to senior living and caregiving, such as how to downsize when joining a retirement community or what questions to ask when touring a community, we also want to invite our readers to suggest topics you are most interested in. After all, we are here to help you make the most of senior living!

We have created a simple, easy-to-fill-out four-question survey for you to share your ideas and let us know what you think here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/GWBM63G.

Thank you in advance for taking the time to complete our survey and we hope you enjoy our blog.

Cheers,

SeniorHomes.com Editorial Team

How Seniors Can Access Fresh Produce Through Government Programs

During September we are continuing the theme of highlighting the benefits of healthy eating. This is the first of two posts focused on how seniors on a limited budget can access nutritional food.

Eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables is widely acknowledged as the most important thing one can do to improve one’s health and well-being through diet. Yet alongside that widely acknowledged fact is the myth that fresh fruits and vegetables are unaffordable for those with a limited income. On the contrary, there are many programs—both public and private—to help seniors afford nutritious food.

The largest and most well-known program to increase food access is the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly called the Food Stamp Program. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), “SNAP is the largest program in the domestic hunger safety net,” benefiting “millions of eligible, low-income individuals and families.”

Few Seniors Utilize Benefits

One of the unknown facts of this seemingly well-known program is that many seniors who are eligible for SNAP benefits don’t receive them. According to AARP, 67 percent of eligible individuals 60 and older do not receive eligible benefits, despite the fact that many have paid into the system through their taxes for decades and it is easy to apply for the benefits.

According to the Harris School of Policy Studies 2009 study at the University of Chicago, once seniors are initially enrolled they are no more likely to drop SNAP enrollment than any other age group. However, the challenge lies in the initial adoption.

AARP suggests that the reasons why seniors don’t sign up for this benefit is because they are embarrassed, feel that by accepting benefits they are taking away from others or are simply unaware of the program. The University of Chicago study mirrors these findings, stating that “60 percent of eligible non-participants are unaware of their eligibility.” The National Council on Aging (NCOA) observed similar reasons for low-adoption rates for SNAP among seniors, pointing to mobility, technology and again stigma and shame for accepting public benefits. Furthermore, some seniors are discouraged by myths about how SNAP works and who can qualify.

NCOA has promoted initiatives to increase the adoption rates by seniors, including funding partner programs that assist older adults with the enrollment process. This can range from help understanding criteria for income eligibility or simply using encouraging messaging about how SNAP is “saving money,” instead of seniors “receiving benefits” or “welfare.”

Increased Access to Farm-Fresh Foods

Many states now allow SNAP recipients to not only use their benefits at any grocery store, but at farmers’ markets. Farmers markets in all 50 states now accept EBT SNAP cards and more and more markets are offering program that allow seniors to double their SNAP funds. A November, 2014 NPR article points out that the success of a number of local initiatives at farmers’ markets across the country—such as at the Crossroads Farmers Market just outside of Washington, D.C. where a combination of donors and private foundations contributed to double EBT funds—led to the passing of a 2014 farm bill “that included a program to boost SNAP dollars when they’re spent on fresh fruits and vegetables.”

The State of Washington now offers a Fresh Bucks program which “matches SNAP funds, dollar-for-dollar up to $10 per cardholder per market, per day.” While it is true that not all programs operate in the same fashion, in many instances, customers with EBT cards can visit the market information booth to receive a transfer voucher. The customer then decides “how much he or she would like to spend…and the account is verified using a cell phone.” After that “the market provides the customer with wooden tokens” to be spent on farm-fresh foods at individual vendor booths. In addition to the SNAP program, “fresh, nutritious, unprocessed fruits, vegetables, honey and fresh-cut herbs can [also] be purchased with Seniors Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP) benefits. “Coupons are issued to eligible SFMNP participants to buy eligible foods from farmers, farmers’ markets, roadside stands or CSAs that have been approved by the State agency to accept SFMNP coupons.”

Through government programs low-income seniors can improve not only their nutritional health, but also support their local food producers. Moreover, those who are concerned about the economic ramifications of programs like SNAP can take heart in the fact that the USDA cites that every $5 spent using SNAP generates $9 in economic activity.

The Last Stop: Unexpected Emergencies

I was sound asleep when a continuous ear-piercing beep from my apartment alarm system woke me. It wouldn’t stop. I rolled over, now wide awake. Thoughts of Is this for real and Is the building on fire raced through my head. I doubted there was a real fire, but if so, what should I do? Why have I never attended a fire drill? Should I stay in my apartment or go into the hall or maybe try to get out of the building? Still lying in my warm bed but becoming more anxious, I wondered if maybe the beeping might be a warning that one of my apartment smoke alarms needed new batteries. That had happened once before. I decided to get up and listen to see if the sound was coming from the other rooms. They were all beeping, so forget the battery theory. I looked out from my sixth-floor apartment window, which faces the back of the property. Everything looked tranquil.

Read more about the unexpected frustration and excitement that this emergency and another caused in Margery’s life in the Last Stop: Part 22.

This post was written by Margery Fridstein, an author and retired psychotherapist who lives in a CCRC outside of Denver, CO. She is chronicling her experience in the monthly series, “The Last Stop With Margery Fridstein.”

 

The Link Between Food Insecurity and Poor Health in Seniors

Our next series of articles discusses the benefits of healthy eating and how seniors can incorporate this into their daily lives. For seniors residing in senior living communities, their chefs increasingly include locally sourced produce into the meals. Elders living on their own can buy produce from local growers at their the farmer’s market. Fortunately, even those on a limited budget can eat healthily and we’ll discuss state and federal programs that are available to aid seniors on an fixed income. In the following post we will focus on the health issues that result when food insecurity threatens healthy eating habits, a reality that is far more prevalent for seniors than many people realize.

Nearly 1 in 12:  that’s the number of seniors in the United States in 2011 who “had limited or uncertain access to enough food to sustain a healthy lifestyle” according to the Spotlight on Senior Health Adverse Health Outcomes of Food Insecure Older Americans report produced by Feeding America and the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger.

This food insecurity translates into tangible effects that affect a senior’s quality of life and health. Of the nutrients that are found in our diets, iron and protein are especially important for seniors. Yet seniors experiencing food insecurity consume 14 and 12 percent less of these nutrients than food secure seniors. They also consume fewer calories.

Consuming fewer calories and nutrients results in irreversible health issues. “Food insecurity was found to be negatively associated with nine diseases and other negative health conditions,” according to the report. Though heart attacks are an expected health risk as seniors age, food insecure seniors are more than 50 percent more likely to report a heart attack than their peers with access to food. Remaining independent also proves challenging, as they are 22 percent more likely to experience limitations with activities of daily living. Food insecure seniors are also 60 percent more likely to be depressed.

Even though all ages experience food insecurity, for seniors the health implications are much more significant. The study found that even food insecure seniors with higher incomes still experienced health issues, as a result  “it is clear that food insecurity affects health and well-being independent of income levels,” the report concludes.

Earlier this year, we had a clearer picture of the number of seniors experiencing food insecurity through the release of The State of Senior Hunger in America 2013:  Annual Report. Using the 2013 data collected from the Current Population Survey, researchers estimate that 15.5 percent (9.6 million) seniors experienced food insecurity, an increase of 300,000 more than 2012. Seniors between the ages of 60-64 reported the highest percentage (18.62) compared to 12.54 percent of seniors 80+. Women were more likely to experience food insecurities than men, and employed seniors experience the threat of senior hunger at a lower percentage than seniors who are unemployed or disabled.

The distribution of food insecure seniors differs from state to state. Minnesota has the lowest estimate of threat of senior hunger at 8.30 compared to Arkansas which reported 26.10. Unfortunately with the estimates showing that the threat of senior hunger only increasing, the authors warn that the United States will be face additional public health challenges, especially because of the health issues that result from food insecurity.

 

** Images taken from Spotlight on Senior Health:  Adverse Health Outcomes of Food Insecure Older Americans and The State of Senior Hunger in America 2013:  Annual Report.

 

 

The Last Stop: Living Together

As a retired psychotherapist, consultant and mental health educator I spent much of my professional career helping people understand and manage their feelings. Yet I do not think that I have actually written about how it feels to live in a community like this. Well, it’s time to correct that. Despite the challenges, I recommend this CCRC lifestyle as the best choice for seniors who are looking for their last stop.

Learn more about my thoughts and observations learning to live together in my latest post Living Together.

This post was written by Margery Fridstein, an author and retired psychotherapist who lives in a CCRC outside of Denver, CO. She is chronicling her experience in the monthly series, “The Last Stop With Margery Fridstein.”

How Geriatric Care Managers can Help You Care for Your Parents

Where can your turn when those conversations about how to care for your parents become difficult?  Who’s available to help you sort through all the options?  Is there a neutral third party who can listen objectively and make recommendations?  If you’re miles away, who can make a personal visit to assess your parents’ health?  The answer: geriatric care managers.

Who are Geriatric Care Managers?

Geriatric care managers are health and human services professionals with specialized knowledge of and experience in senior care.  Their backgrounds may include such fields as nursing, social work, gerontology and psychology.  They advocate for senior clients and support families; offering independent assessment of the situation and arranging for and coordinating appropriate services.  More often than not, family members struggle with emotions during this time; few are prepared for how these situations will affect them personally.  Geriatric care managers help families understand not only the situation and options, but also the feelings involved.

To learn more about how geriatric care managers can help lessen the stress of caring for your parents, visit SeniorHomes.com’s page Geriatric Care Managers Can Help.

How a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist Can Help Your Parents Remain in Their Beloved Home

There are many good reasons why older adults prefer to remain in their own homes and communities. Proximity to family and friends, the comfort of familiar surroundings, privacy — all of these are important. A widowed senior may feel closer to his lost loved one by staying in the house they shared for several decades.

While retirement communities provide numerous opportunities for socializing and activities, seniors may become isolated if separated from familiar neighbors, friends and other social networks. The upheaval of learning new routines and finding new hairdressers, grocery stores, local shops, restaurants, etc., is daunting enough for most of us. To an older individual, perhaps with a diminishing memory, this can be an absolute nightmare.

A Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) professional can help make your parents’ home “aging-ready.” CAPS professionals utilize universal design principles to create a safer, more comfortable and more independent life in their own home, both now and in the future. Learn more about how a certified Aging-in-Place specialist can help your parents age in place by visiting our What is a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist page .

Joan’s Journey: Conservation and Change Describe Senior Living

On a beautiful Sunday afternoon at Holiday Villa East (HVE) in Santa Monica, three lovely ladies donated belongings for the neighborhood Goodwill Industries Thrift Shop. Between the daily activities of bingo and Scrabble, these HVE residents paused to place pants, a shirt and a beloved cape into the artful Earth Day donations box handmade by Activities Director Brenda Martinez.

Before placing her attractive brown cape in the box, thoughtful Rose asked if her friends would like to have it. Rose commented that the cape was warm, comfortable and in good condition. She had worn it for many years and was ready to give away the garment. The residents thanked her, but agreed that the cape should go to a new, perhaps needy, owner.

Wise women. Senior living requires downsizing and spring cleaning renews the effort to downsize and get rid of unwanted items wherever one lives. The theme for this year’s Earth Day is It’s Our Time To Lead and served as the impetus for the donation campaign at HVE.

Learn about the other eco-friendly practices that Joan discovered at her community in Joan’s Journey, Part 29.