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Seven ways to avoid the health scams targeting seniors

fbiThe FBI did a presentation in November for AARP that had some valuable information that can help older adults. In working with seniors now, I often seen many of these scams played out and work to undo and recoup money that has been siphoned away through exploitation.

The majority of senior scams start when the individual offers up their medicare number or credit card information. Nothing was stolen, it was actually given away. For this reason, I suggest that loved ones and family consider how to offer support.

Most seniors will not share the fact that they were exploited due to embarrassment as well as fear that their control over their own life will be taken away … even by well-meaning family. I know, because my family experienced it. We saw a variety of different ploys that impacted our parents financially. I started by trying to work in tandem with mom who was “in charge” of paying the bills. It takes lot more time to do in tandem. Thankfully, my dad helped navigate the issues since he knew mom was struggling.

Eventually, when money just caused anxiety for mom, I started handling the finances and would just give her a quick, positive report to assuage her concerns. If you aren’t local and don’t have the time, consider hiring a Daily Money Manager. They can help your loved one stay independent, but benefit from their expertise to avoid frauds and scams. You can research local resources at the American Association of Daily Money Management here.

In terms of health fraud, the FBI recommends:

  1. Never sign blank insurance claim forms
  2. Ask your medical providers what they will charge and what you will be expected to pay
  3. Review your insurance benefits statement
  4. Don’t work with door-to-door or telephone salespeople who tell you that services or medical equipment are free (check out a related post on the subtle abuse you might not notice that discusses these “free” offers — they are never without a cost.)
  5. Only give your insurance information to medical service providers; if asked for your insurance number in exchange for money report it!
  6. Keep accurate records of your health care appointments
  7. Be weary of rolling labs found at health clubs, retirement homes, and in parking lots.  You are offered a free or low cost tests which may be totally unnecessary and possibly fake. You give them your Medicare or other insurance information which is what they want. Once they have your name, they may bill for services that were never performed. You may not know it, but you’ve participated in a fraud.

I am constantly surprised at the amount of energy and effort, as well as complicity, involved in these efforts to exploit money from older adults. The best defense is a good offense. I hope this gives you an idea on how to help a loved one that needs it. Convinced.


How often should I visit?

kayandkittyxmas2014For those who have a loved one in an assisted living or memory care community, this question lurks in the back of all of our minds. There is no right answer, only the answer that is right for you.

I recall several times having voice mail waiting for me asking “When are you coming to visit?” In many cases, the calls came within 20 or 30 minutes AFTER my visit. Why am I visiting when my mom doesn’t even remember it?

I came to realize that I needed to recognize my visits were for me. What was the right balance to not only be her advocate and make sure she was getting the right care, but also ensured that I was also present for my own family. The weekly number of visits fluctuated over the last few years of mom’s life. I always struggled to know what was the right amount, but that was only something that could come from within me.

There were times when mom didn’t recognize me, and other times when she would say something so personal or insightful, I would have to excuse myself to avoid crying in front of her. I missed her even though I was with her. The dementia stole her away bit-by-bit.

There are also those times when your loved one can tell you how much your visit means. The picture is exactly one year before my mom’s death. That day she let me know how much my visit mattered. Appreciated. 

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As we age, changes in our brain make us more susceptible to exploitation.

ImpactofFraudHallie Swift is a poet with a keen eye for art, and she recently blogged about what happened to her mom. One of the comments in her story discussed how the changes in our brains as we age make us more susceptible to fraud and exploitation.

In working with older adults to manage their day-to-day finances, the onslaught of scams and ploys to get their money is never ending. For my oldest clients, we usually start by going through the mail together. The amount of non-profits that use language to convey a prior commitment to give saddens me as a former non-profit marketing professional. These are used even by the top-notch charities. They know that the “greatest generation” meets their commitments and language stating “Thanks for your pledge of $20.00” is very successful at generating donations.

If you are seeing a lot more donations, your loved one might be a victim of this tactic. I know that it worked on my parents. Their habit of giving once a year turned into checks every month.

However, the important thing to know is that the changes in our aging brains may make us all victims of some of the more serious and predatory scams that result in over 36 Billion dollars a year as reported by the National Council on Aging. I think it is valuable for all of us to know that it might be a natural consequence of getting older.

Beyond the concern to the finances is the emotional toll this takes on older adults. From additional health issues to trouble in a marriage, support around managing the checkbook might be a welcome relief to someone in your life.

For more on the full report, you can visit: Neural and behavioral bases of age differences in perceptions of trust.  In summary:

“Older adults are disproportionately vulnerable to fraud, and federal agencies have speculated that excessive trust explains their greater vulnerability.

Two studies, one behavioral and one using neuroimaging methodology, identified age differences in trust and their neural underpinnings. Older and younger adults rated faces high in trust cues similarly, but older adults perceived faces with cues to
untrustworthiness to be significantly more trustworthy and approachable than younger adults. This age-related pattern was mirrored in neural activation to cues of trustworthiness. Whereas younger adults showed greater anterior insula activation to untrustworthy versus trustworthy faces, older adults showed muted activation of the anterior insula to untrustworthy faces. The insula has been shown to support interoceptive awareness that forms the basis of “gut feelings,” which represent expected risk and predict risk-avoidant behavior. Thus, a diminished “gut” response to cues
of untrustworthiness may partially underlie older adults’ vulnerability to fraud.”

Aging ain’t for sissies. I hope this helps you consider how you might help a loved one as well as consider how to protect yourself in the years to come. Considered. 


Carve out Time at Thanksgiving to Talk with Family and Friends

carveouttimeThe fact that 9 out of 10 American’s will need someone to speak on their behalf before the end of their life was documented in a joint study done by the National Institutes of Health and Veteran’s Affairs.

Do yourself and your loved ones a favor by having a discussion about this FACT before you are faced with the reality. Those that step in to help will face a lifetime of guilt and doubt if you have not been clear about end-of-life wishes.

For those of us who have cared for someone with dementia, what we know is that there are years of choices to be made well before end-of-life that can be just as challenging. Telling someone I want to “die in my home” is probably not always practical, so offering some more guidance on ways you would like to spend your time if you have limited mobility or cognitive impairment.

What we know now is that isolation is a very real health issue. What is your social network and how will you be able to stay active if you can no longer drive yourself? What I have seen is that when many of my clients reach their 80s, they are finding that they no longer have local friends who can give them rides if they are still in the area. It get’s hard to make new friends when you aren’t getting out and trying new things.

This Thanksgiving, I hope you will carve out some time to start the conversation with your loved ones on how you plan to live the rest of your life. I’ve included three great resources below, and hope you might start by sharing with friends and family your ideas about how you will spend your time in your 60s and 70s; where you plan to be living and how you will be spending your time.

I am lucky my parents shared their thoughts with me. It made a difficult journey a little easier knowing that we did or are doing what we can to honor their individual wishes.

Hopefully, by reading one of these books you will get some ideas on how to best engage in a positive conversation with your loved ones this Thanksgiving. Wished.  


Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End (B&N $8.93) by Atul Gawande

It’s $11.00 at Amazon and free shipping for Prime members. 
In Being Mortal, bestselling author Atul Gawande tackles the hardest challenge of his profession: how medicine can not only improve life but also the process of its ending. Medicine has triumphed in modern times, transforming birth, injury, and infectious disease from harrowing to manageable. But in the inevitable condition of aging and death, the goals of medicine seem too frequently to run counter to the interest of the human spirit.

AARP Roadmap for the Rest of Your Life: Smart Choices About Money, Health, Work, Lifestyle … and Pursuing Your Dreams by Bart Astor
Life after 50 isn’t what it used to be. The rules have changed. No more guaranteed pensions, retiree health plans, or extensive leisure and travel. It’s time to forge new paths and create innovative models. That’s where the AARP Roadmap for the Rest of Your Life comes in. Bart Astor, author of more than a dozen books, offers a comprehensive guide for making lifestyle decisions, growing your nest egg, and realizing your goals. It’s a positive read I highly recommend.

The Conversation Starter Kit
If you want to be the expert on your wishes and those of your loved ones, not the doctors, nurses, or end-of-life experts, check out this free resource (donations accepted) that includes easy discussion starters for the coming holiday. This doesn’t have to be a gloomy conversation. I was lucky my parents shared their wishes with me.

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Three things you can do to protect yourself from fraud.

fraudprotectioniconThe number of institutions that have our data and that been hacked is only growing. The reality is that a lot of our personal information has probably been sold or can be found on the “dark web” used by these crooks.

We have the ability to defend our selves — the fact is that most people don’t do the basics to help themselves. In my role as a Daily Money Manager, I have stop being shocked by the number of auto-debits from subscription services my clients aren’t using and often don’t even know about that are on their credit card statements. To make it easy they, or a loved one, set up auto-payments to make sure the bill got paid. However, that means that NO ONE is looking at the statements in most cases.

I also don’t recommend that you set up auto-debits from your checking account. Instead of giving what amounts to a limited “power of attorney” to come into your account and take out the money you owe, set up automated payments you PUSH OUT from the account using the bill pay portal. While these direct from your checking account systems work well for many American’s, I was behind a man at the bank who had set this up for his mortgage. The payments kept being pulled after he sold his home and now he couldn’t pay his new mortgage. He was told that they only way to stop it was to close down his bank account. I have recently had a similar issue with a charity pulling money from a clients’ account and thankfully, we were able to have them voluntarily terminate the automated transfer. It took MANY phone calls and follow-ups, but finally they stopped. It was a reputable charity, but they have little incentive to respond to requests to terminate donations.

Three things you can do to make sure you don’t become a victim of fraud is:

  1. Religiously review your credit card statements and address issues immediately.
  2. Monitor your checking account and balance your checkbook. I’ve seen a check for $2,000 debited for $3,000.
  3. Check your credit reports at least once a year and report any inaccuracies. If you aren’t at a point in your life to need credit, I would consider freezing or locking your credit. To learn more about that you can view this article.

A final step to protect yourself is to make sure you are not using your DEBIT card for any online purchases. Only use a Credit Card that offers the fraud protections should your card number be compromised.

You have the power to protect yourself and your loved ones. Recommended. 


It’s time to lock our credit.

CreditfraudfreezeIf our lives as caregivers weren’t busy enough, there is one additional step to consider if you are caring for a loved one. Given the number of breeches, especially for a loved one that doesn’t need to open a line of credit, it’s time to either put a FRAUD ALERT or a SECURITY (Credit) FREEZE in place.

Fraud Alert tells creditors they need to take reasonable extra-steps to confirm that it is you asking for credit. It lasts for 90 days and includes a free credit report.

Security Freeze locks your credit and requires action (and for now $10 to lift the freeze or re-freeze it) on your part to access credit. It took me about 30 minutes to do it online for all three. Be forewarned, you will have to be able to bring up past credit history and addresses — which is why I am an advocate of having one place for writing it all down. A great tool (it’s my book) can be found on Amazon.

I choose to use a Security Freeze for myself since I don’t foresee many situations in which I will be applying for credit in the coming years. Here are some links to each of three big bureaus:

Equifax Link to Freeze your credit: https://www.freeze.equifax.com

Experian Security Freeze: https://www.freeze.equifax.com ($10.00 fee)

Transunion Security Freeze: https://www.transunion.com/ ($10.00 fee)

Watch out for the upsell. Many of the sites will try to get you to buy their monitoring services. I don’t recommend those because I have found they just make you more concerned and the truth is that you have the ability to put the protections in place for free or a minimal cost.

To view the story on the report from Consumer Reports, click here.

Please let me know what you chose and what you found if you initiated one of these services for you or a loved one. Protected. 


Honesty and Dementia

honestyI work with a client who has some cognitive impairment and an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. After we work on bill payments and review his accounts, I take the mail to the post office. Well, I took two birthday cards for his daughter, promised to put stamps on them, and mailed then without stamps!

I called him and told him what I had done and suggested a solution. I would pick him up to go get new cards, then fed-ex them to they arrived on time. He chuckled at me and and told me not to worry about it.

I gotta say, I was sick about it. I didn’t want his daughter to be disappointed or think he forgot her birthday. Watching a loved one change is so difficult, and I didn’t want her to think he didn’t remember her birthday, or was to a point that he couldn’t get off a card.

It’s the small things that sustain us and make a difference. I needed to let him, and his daughter know it was my failing.

But, there are some issues when honesty hurts. When my parent’s were fighting me and my siblings because they felt like they were doing fine, I thought getting different doctor’s to confirm their diagnosis might help. I sat with them through three different doctor’s telling them they had vascular dementia (mom), and Alzheimer’s (dad). I finally realized it didn’t matter what the diagnosis was, I needed to figure out how to help them and the truth of the matter was inconsequential.

The journey to care for a loved one is tough and will challenge you in ways you never imagined. I hope you will take the time to be kind to yourself and know that you will make the best decision you can with the information you have when it needs to be made. When will what you know or honesty hurt and when will it help is a lesson I still keep trying to master. Confessed. 

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