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Posted: May 17, 2004

Practical Caregiving

Protect Your Elderly -- and Yourself -- Against Costly Scams

Is the person you are taking care of asking you for money when you just gave them enough to last a while? Are they vague in their reason for needing it? Are they receiving bills for things they can?t remember buying? Perhaps someone is taking advantage of them and taking their money.

Fraud is a major problem with the elderly. It?s a sad situation, but there are people who want what you have, and they don?t care how much they hurt you in getting what they want. The elderly are easy prey for unscrupulous people. As a caregiver, you need to be on the alert for people like this. The elderly have grown up believing that people are honest, and they want to trust everyone. You need to be aware of the ways the con artist takes advantage of the elderly so it won?t happen to your loved one.

The latest in a long list of elderly scams is related to the Medicare discount drug cards that have been available for less than a month. Con artists call and even walk up to doors to try to get control of your elderly?s money. As a result, a program that is intended to help can be used to take advantage of the elderly and end up causing more problems for them. Con artists are trying to sell options to the elderly that are part of the benefits of the card. Some are asking for debit card numbers¸ then charging as much as $200 in goods to the card.

Then, there are the ?miracle cures.? If they really worked, no one would have that particular problem any longer. Obviously, they don?t work, so don?t fall for them because you are desperate to help your loved one.

In another scam, phone calls, mailings and emails indicate your mother or father has won a prize or contest. It is something that the elderly person didn?t enter, but they ?won? anyway. At first, the con artists may not ask for money, but there will be a charge to send the prize or money to Mom or Dad. All con artists need to know is the address of your loved one, their Social Security number and bank account number. And they?ll ask for each one of these. In the end, the prize or money will never be delivered to your loved one but their bank account will show withdrawals that your loved one didn?t make or authorize.

Home improvement is another scam. Someone will telephone your loved one or walk up to the door offering to fix something they say needs repair. It doesn?t need to be something that is actually broken. It might be a complete lie. It could be the roof, plumbing or something else. They say they need paid up front for expenses and supplies, but then they will either do nothing or do a very bad job. Caregivers and the rest of the population can become victims in this type of scam, but our elderly are a particularly easy target.

Unsolicited offers to fix your bad credit for a fee is fraudulent. The only way to fix your bad credit is to make payments regularly and work your way out of it. Isn?t that what we always were taught, anyway? If something sounds too good to be true ? it probably is!

Then, if you have been scammed, the scammers come back and offer to recover your money ? for a price. They pose as representatives of the government or a legitimate company. They get you again if you fall for it.

Someone may contact you by phone, email or regular mail to tell you your personal information was stolen and they are trying to verify the correct information. They then ask for your bank information, Social Security number, address and any other information that will help them rescue your information. You never see them, and of course they are phony.

A few years ago, my sister got a call from a government agency about her credit card. Someone had stolen her information and was making fake credit cards to pass out all over the country. She was told that she needed to go down to a certain office in the federal building to verify her identity and to verify the agency was legitimate. She was told they wouldn?t accept information over the phone or through the mail. It had to be in person. That?s what happens when there is a legitimate inquiry.

Identification theft can happen anywhere. Someone can steal your information through the mail, where you use your credit card, at an ATM machine, over the internet, in the office, by hacking into your computer. They take your information, open accounts and buy items without your knowledge. Often enough, you don?t find out until you apply for a loan and it is rejected because of your bad credit. The lesson: Never give your personal information to anyone unless you are buying something and you are certain who you are dealing with.

Most people who care for the elderly are honest, but there are some who are not. They can steal checks, account numbers, passwords, debit and credit card information and any other information to siphon money from your loved one. Make sure they do not have access to that information. If a bill needs to be paid, make sure you or your loved one does it ? no one else. Sometimes these people will also tell sob stories about needing the money to be able to continue taking care of your loved one. They are getting paid but they still need to borrow money. If your loved one asks for money and won?t give you a clear, complete and verifiable reason, question them further until you are fully satisfied. It just might be that the person taking care of them wants the money and has convinced your Mom or Dad to give it to them.

If you find something has been stolen (and using your credit card to buy something without your approval is stealing) contact the institution which issued the card and the police. Do what they tell you to do to get it straightened out.

To find out more, go to the web sites below.

National Fraud Information Center,
Internet and Telemarketing Fraud

National Consumers League


On another front, I received a very good comment regarding my answer to Karen?s question last week. I want to share it with you:

Dear Jean,

I have a suggestion in your answer to Karen about using her mother's funds for her care. You suggested that she see an attorney as soon as possible. I would add to that to see an attorney who specializes in geriatrics or elder-law. There are many available and it is important that the attorney knows not just general law, but specializes in elder-law.

Emily, Woodbride

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