What are the signs that an elder may be the victim of identity theft or financial abuse?
1. Has their personality changed?
2. Have they withdrawn from you?
3. Are they depressed?
4. Are they fearful or nervous?
5. Do you see anxiety that shouldn’t be there?
6. Are they missing money or always asking for more money than they need?
7. Is there any unusual activity in their bank accounts?
8. Are there frequent checks written for cash or to their caregiver?
9. Do the signatures on their checks look different than their signature?
10. Do they have all the food and medicine they need?
11. Are there any new acquaintances or distant relatives who give them a lot of extra time and attention or moves in with them?
12. Are they or their caregiver reluctant to spend money on their food, medicine or care?
13. Does their caregiver try to isolate them from old friends and family?
14. Has your loved one changed their will recently?
15. Has your loved one changed to a living trust so they can have easier access to their money?
16. Have they attended a free seminar put on by a senior advisor or medi-cal specialist to promote various estate planning services (such as Medi-Cal in California)?
17. Go over all information sent by Medicare or other government agency to make sure the services were actually provided.
18. Is their Social Security card, checkbook and other important documents still where they should be?
The person taking money from your loved one may be a family member, in-home caregiver, stranger, or people who work at adult day-care centers or nursing homes. Always be on the alert for any person or scam trying to take your loved ones identity information and money. It does happen more often than we want to believe.
Why Older Adults Are More Vulnerable to Scams (From Sharon O'Brien,Your Guide to Senior Living.)
Memory Problems and Pride Increase Risk from Scam Artists
A study reported by the American Psychological Association (APA) reveals that older adults who were given misleading hints were 10 times more likely to remember false information—and believe it’s true—than younger adults.
This may explain why elderly people are often victims of scams.
The study also found that older adults who were tested did not remember the information correctly and did not know that their answers were incorrect.
Older Adults Compared to Young Adults
The study, which appears in the May issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, compared 24 older adults (average age 75) with 24 younger adults (average age 19). Both groups were given a series of memory tests that were designed to mimic a scam situation.
According to the study, the older adults were 10 times more likely to report that the incorrect pair containing the same first word was the same as on the first list. For example, a salesperson perpetrating a scam might give an elderly customer a low price at first, raise the price during the discussion, and the elderly customer might “remember” and believe that the two prices were the same.
During testing, older adults consistently remembered the lists incorrectly, even when they were given more time to study them. And when test subjects were given the option to “pass” when they weren’t sure of an answer, the older adults rarely took advantage of that option, which reduced the accuracy of their answers.
The combination of not remembering correctly and being unwilling to admit there’s a problem can make older adults especially vulnerable to scam artists.
Get Everything in Writing
The researchers reported a high degree of variability among the older test subjects, indicating that some older adults are more vulnerable to memory problems than others. Adults with more severe memory problems are more vulnerable to scams.
Researchers stressed that the overall results of these tests illustrate the importance of getting everything in writing to avoid being the victim of a scam.
When getting an estimate for repair work, for example, don’t accept a verbal estimate. Get it in writing, including any warranties for labor and parts. After you have repairs done, keep written receipts in a file in case you encounter a problem later.
It’s also good to keep written records of your finances, including bank account numbers and safe deposit boxes. Give a trusted family member or friend access to your paperwork in case you become ill or injured.
Whether you have memory problems or not, it’s a good idea to protect yourself from scams by making sure you get important information in writing.
Don't Be Fooled by Misleading Credentials (BEWARE OF "SMELIEs")
Insurance agents and other financial product salesmen, along with others who offer eldercare related services may claim to be "certified experts" to cover up the fact that they have very little experience or education. Those who claim to be a certified "seniorcare expert", "senior specialist", "senior advisor" "registered gerontologist" or other such designation may not really be the best qualified professional to meet your needs.
I call these scam artists "SMELIEs". SMELIE is an acronym for "Senior Market, Education Lacking, Independent Enterprise". This is not a condemnation of all -- or even most -- insurance agents or other financial service professionals, most of whom conduct their businesses in an honorable fashion. But SMELIEs have become all too commonplace and their victims are being fleeced for millions of dollars.
One way you can identify a SMELIE is that they often cover up the fact that they have little knowledge or expertise about the complex planning issues of older people, by purchasing one or more "credential(s)" to make it appear that they have a sophisticated level of education and experience that make them well qualified to advise elders on important matters like planning for long-term care or the best way to invest their retirement savings.
Minnesota's Attorney General, Lori Swanson was quoted on the investigative report broadcast by NBC's "Dateline" that an "underground industry" has developed to make crooked agents look legitimate.
A SMELIE can obtain a title to put after their name such as "Certified Senior Specialist" (CSS), "Certified Senior Advisor" (CSA), "Certified Senior Consultant" (CSC), "Certified Retirement Financial Advisor" (CRFA), "Certified Estate Planner" (CEP) and "Registered Financial Gerontologist" (RFG) by paying a fee, typically in the range of $1000 to $2500, attend as few as 2 or 3 days of classes and then passing an exam, administered by the same company they paid to take the course.
Compare this with legitimate credentials such as the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) designation that require years of intensive course work and study and a rigorous examination administered by an independent testing company with no vested interest in how many pass or fail the exam.
Joseph Borg, Director of the Alabama Securities Commission and President of the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA); told a congressional hearing about NASAA's state-by-state efforts to combat the problems caused by the proliferation of inappropriate senior financial advisor designations, and outlined NASAA's policy that would make it a violation of the law to use a designation to mislead investors.
Senator Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, Chairman of the Senate's Special Committee on Aging said he will develop legislation to provide uniform standards for accreditation to prevent the practices of financial sales agents of using these questionable credentials to gain access to the retirement savings of senior citizens. State regulators, according to Kohl's office, will be encouraged to adopt these new standards.