10 Tips to Protect Seniors from Scams

home care MinneapolisAfter reading the 3 stories of senior fraud in last month’s blog post, you might be wondering, why are seniors so often targeted, who would do such a thing and how can I prevent this from happening to an elderly person in my life? “Scam artists are specifically targeting seniors because they are the fastest-growing segment of the population, which has led to increased demands on Minneapolis law enforcement agencies,” said John Stuck, owner of Home Instead Senior Care® of Minneapolis. In addition, the National Association of Triads, a partnership of law enforcement, has identified these characteristics in some seniors that make them vulnerable:

  1. Wealth: Money is one of the most notable reasons why seniors are targeted. Scammers consider not only their disposable income but the value of their homes, property, life savings and other assets.
  2. Availability: Seniors that are retired spend more time at home and are available for phone calls and visits. Scam artists can more easily get in contact with them, often times repeatedly if their first attempt is successful, as with the woman in last month’s blog post who was scammed out of $5,000 over 2-3 months.
  3. Sickness: Chronic health issues mean that many older adults have difficulty maintaining their property and may rely on outside sources for help. Unscrupulous workers can bilk seniors out of thousands of dollars for a job that should only cost hundreds of dollars. Dementia can exacerbate the problem.
  4. Isolation: Seniors are often alone when families move away from the Minneapolis area. If they don’t have a family member or home care agency to assist them with large decisions, they can fall prey to fraud.
  5. Loneliness: Because of their isolation, seniors’ friendships often can be limited, and this can make them vulnerable to that friendly caller who drops by the house. Some scams are even perpetrated by seemingly trusted people who work to build new friendships with older adults and then prey on their vulnerabilities.

home health careCons against older adults aren’t always acts of blatant theft. They can be subtle, like the retailer who over-charges an older adult or an individual who bills for a service and doesn’t finish the job. A 2011 MetLife Study has identified three elder financial abuse strategies: crimes of occasion, crimes of desperation and crimes of predation.

  • Crimes of occasion, or opportunity, are incidents where the senior has something of value and a perpetrator is allowed easy access to it.
  • Crimes of desperation are typically those in which family members or friends become so desperate for money that they will do whatever it takes to get it. Many of these family members are dependent on the senior for resources. Some believe that, in return for care, he or she is due compensation, as with the case in last month’s blog post of our client with MS.
  • Crimes of predation, or occupation are the most popularized by the media. Most often, a trust is engendered specifically for the intention of financial abuse later. The taking of assets is by stealth and cunning.

Senior Scam minneapolisAs a result, the nonprofit National Association of Triads and Home Instead Senior Care Minneapolis have launched a public information program to educate families and seniors about how to protect themselves. The Protect Seniors from Fraud program provides family caregivers with a number of important tools including a Senior Fraud Protection Kit. Download your copy today!

In it, you’ll find these 5 tips to protect seniors from scams:

  1. Add seniors to the national Do-Not-Call Registry. A study has shown that one of 10 telemarketing callers is a scammer. People may register their residential telephone number, including wireless numbers, on the Do-Not-Call Registry at no cost. To register online and for additional information, go to www.donotcall.gov. To register by phone, call 888-382-1222; for TTY, call 866-290-4236. You must call from the phone number you wish to register.
  2. Shred documents that could be useful to criminals, including bank statements, credit-card statements and offers, and other financial information. Documents that need to be preserved, such as tax filings and car titles, should be stored in a safe deposit box.
  3. Insist that your senior calls the local Better Business Bureau (BBB) or gets a BBB Business Review online at bbb.org before acting on a phone call or a piece of mail, or agreeing to a visit from an unknown person, business or charity. Point out suspicious mailings, especially look-alike envelopes that mimic letters sent from the Social Security Administration or Internal Revenue Service.
  4. Insist that your senior never give out personal information nor agree to give money over the phone. Rather ask for written information to be sent through the mail. The best rule of thumb is to “never provide information in a phone call that you did not initiate.”
  5. Establish a strong defense by posting a “No Solicitation” notice by senior’s front door and help them to sort through his or her incoming mail. A Home Instead Senior Care CAREGiver actually prevented fraud by noticing endless magazine subscriptions, along with invoices for them!

Do these tips sound helpful? If so, download your own  Senior Fraud Protection Kit and learn 5 more!

senior careAccording to experts, the top three crimes targeting seniors are identity theft, Medicaid/Medicare and medication fraud, and financial exploitation. The demographics of an aging population and the sophistication of scammers are adding up to big losses – both financially and emotionally – for older adults. The annual financial loss by victims of elder financial abuse is estimated to be at least $2.9 billion, a 12 percent increase since 2008.

Home Instead Senior Care of Minneapolis clients is urging Minnesota families to be protect senior loved ones from scammers who may be targeting them with clever cons that could jeopardize not only their life savings but their independence.

Senior Scams Attempted on our Clients

It’s probably incomprehensible that your Dad who is the most fiscally responsible person you know or your Mom who warned you every day about “stranger danger” could get scammed. However, one recent study reported by Consumers Digest estimated that there are at least 5 million cases of elder financial abuse in the United States each year yet, according to a 2011 AARP study, only 25 percent of senior scam victims report their fraud cases to authorities. Unfortunately, Home Instead Senior Care of Minneapolis CAREGivers all too often witness scam attempts against their clients by unscrupulous people who call seniors on the telephone, knock on their doors in their quiet Minnesota neighborhood or otherwise solicit them for fraudulent purposes. That is why we developed the senior scam minneapolisSenior Fraud Protection Kit. Click here to download your kit which contains senior fraud triggers and targets, a checklist to scam proof your senior and a handy list to put next to Mom or Dad’s computer or phone of do’s and don’ts that can help protect them from scammers.

As Client Care Coordinator for Home Instead of Minneapolis, Jill Heley-Otterson is a trusted advisor to the seniors we serve. So trusted in fact, that she was recently contacted by one of our clients asking if Jill could help get her out of a “real mess” she’d gotten herself into and she did not want her husband or children to know what was going on. Jill went to her home and found out that for the last 2-3 months, she had given almost $5000 to two men that kept calling her day and night. They told her she was going to get an expensive new car and $2 million as a Publisher’s Clearinghouse winner, but she had to pay a few installments in order to collect her winnings. They kept instructing her to go to a local Minneapolis area pharmacy and purchase certain green packets. Once she added money to them, they would call her back and ask for the scratch-off code on the back in order to access the funds. It appeared that each time was around $750. She finally realized that she was being conned but, having lost so much, she kept thinking that if she just paid them ONE more time, that she would actually get the car and $2 million…and that they would stop calling her. These guys were very convincing, and knew just what to say to keep her on the hook.

The local law enforcement has no way of tracing or investigating this type of crime because the people making the calls are usually overseas and use computers to re-route the numbers. Jill worked with the client to block the two numbers she had for these men, but as they sat there, the calls immediately started up again with local numbers showing on the caller ID. The only way to stop the calls was to turn the phone off. With the client’s permission, Jill called Adult Protection to report what was happening. In the end, her family was made aware of the situation and both her home number and cell number had to be changed and family is closely monitoring the client’s finances and bills.

When a client of Home Instead Senior Care Minneapolis was diagnosed with MS, even though she was not seriously ill, her son and daughter in law persuaded her to turn over all of her financial affairs to them.  In addition, she deeded the house over to them.  In doing so, she basically gave up any say she had in how her money was spent – and her son and daughter in law took full advantage of this.  They went on trips to Las Vegas with her money, bought things for themselves and took over the home by moving into it and relegating her to just being in a couple of the rooms that were wheelchair accessible.  They created a very hostile work environment for the CAREGivers.  They were only allowed to talk to the client and they could not talk to or engage with the young granddaughter that lived there also.  They would get suspicious and nasty if the client and the CAREGiver were having a conversation that they could not hear – and would yell at them about it.  Home Instead got calls from the son and daughter in law saying the CAREGivers were not allowed to purchase anything for the client (even a candy bar) unless it was approved by them and the CAREGivers were not allowed to park in the driveway, even in the winter.  The client was totally isolated from her family – not allowed to call her sister or her friends.  This is why Home Instead kept sending CAREGivers out there, simply to make sure that there were eyes and ears while authorities and family were making plans to get her out of this situation. Adult Protection was brought into the situation.  The daughter in law was also very specific in the age and appearance of our CAREGivers because she did not trust her husband with them.  The police came to the door one day because the son had snow blown the entire yard of snow onto the street, and cars could not get by.  He demanded that our CAREGiver not open the door to the police!  She did defy him, which made him very angry. All in all, this was a very hostile environment both for our client and our CAREGivers.

Our primary CAREGiver and our Client Care Coordinator helped the client make a plan to move to an assisted living facility, secretly.  It took some time and a lot of planning and when the son and his wife were out of town – she secretly made the move with the belongings she wanted with her.  The facility had extra security involved to prevent her son and his wife from having contact with her or causing trouble.  Their pictures were at the front desk (and probably still are) stating that they are not allowed in the building.  Our client was so thrilled to be reunited with her sister and other family.  She has been thriving, is happy in her new environment, still receives services from us, and is engaged in her new community.  Her son and daughter in law no longer have her money to live off of and are involved in a huge legal mess that is ongoing as far as we know.

Another scam case was less intrusive but could have been equally as damaging. A senior client of Home Instead Senior Care Minneapolis had endless magazine subscriptions that just kept coming and coming! He was getting invoices for the magazines even though his current subscription is paid up for the next ten years. He didn’t realize that he’d paid so far ahead and thinks that he actually needs to pay each of these invoices. Our CAREGiver is monitoring this by insisting that together, they look at a current magazine to find the end date before paying on any more invoices. She is also coaching him to say no to telemarketers. It’s difficult for seniors who may be lonely. They may not mind hearing a friendly voice on the other end of the line… even if they are asking for something. It makes it very hard for them to say NO.

Home Instead’s mission is to help keep Minnesota seniors living safely and independently in their homes for as long as possible includes helping to protect older adults from those trying to take advantage of them.
We are proud to serve as a second set of eyes to help deter tricksters and scammers. With the legacy they leave all of us, our nation’s seniors are treasured commodities that deserve to be shielded from criminals and thieves – a mission we can all feel good about embracing.