Sunday, February 1, 2015

Elder Fraud - How To Protect Your Loved Ones

The phone rings. It’s a call from “your grandson.” He’s calling because he’s been arrested and wants you to wire money to him so that he can make bail. “Grandma, it’s me, your grandson!” he exclaims.  When you reply “You sound funny,” he says, “I don’t sound funny, I just have a cold” and “I don’t have much longer to talk on the phone, Grandma; I just need you to send the money so I can get out.” All of the statements seem believable and you wire the money per the instructions given over the phone.   

The above is just one of many schemes being perpetrated against older adults to defraud them of assets.  Schemes against older adults are all too common and frequently successful. Seniors receive calls from people claiming to be from the Social Security Administration telling them that they owe thousands of dollars in order to continue to get Social Security and insurance coverage from the government.  Some of these scam artists have figured out ways to make words like “IRS” show up on telephone caller ID’s.  Official looking messages are sent through e-mail informing unsuspecting seniors that they owe enormous amounts of past taxes or that they need to divulge their banking information to further process insurance.  Seniors are even targeted by Medicare-approved companies aggressively marketing medical supplies that seniors don’t really want or need.

The elderly are one of the most vulnerable segments of the population. Easily tricked into a scheme, their gullibility often accompanies a lifetime of accumulated assets allowing for potential payment to awaiting recipients.  Sadly, one of the biggest perpetrators of schemes against elderly adults are their own family members.  Some older adults inadvertently give away thousands of dollars because the effects of dementia-related illnesses may leave them unable to distinguish between legitimate bills and solicitations which come in the mail. 

What can you do to protect yourself or your loved ones?

Step 1: Be Aware: Begin to look for warning signs in older relatives or friends. Look for late payment or no payment notices or, if the individual rents an apartment, look to see if an eviction process has started. These are potential signs that someone may be trying to take advantage of your loved one or that perhaps they are becoming more vulnerable to such schemes and could use some assistance with financial affairs. Talk to your relatives and friends about the types of schemes which exist and let them know to never give anyone any financial information over the phone. It’s important to remember that financial exploitation of seniors is not always committed by strangers, but can be perpetrated by family members as well. Taking an interest in your family or friends’ lives can greatly reduce the chance that they become victims of financial abuse.

Step 2: Contact an Attorney:    Ensure your loved one has proper legal documentation in place.  There are different types of trusts that can be established that make it easier to manage property in the event a loved one becomes incapable of acting on his or her own. Durable Powers of Attorney can also be invaluable and allow an individual to appoint someone to make financial decisions on his or her behalf, including the handling of accounts and bills. While a Durable Power of Attorney does not take away an individual’s ability to handle his or her own financial affairs, it gives the designated agent the authority to make financial transactions should it become necessary.  The designated agent can also oversee an individual’s financial transactions as the Power of Attorney can grant the designated agent the authority to review statements or accounts online to ensure his or her loved one is handling finances appropriately and has not become the victim of fraud. 

Step 3:  Get More Information: There are dozens of sources to get more information on these issues.  Regarding identity theft prevention, Eddie Lund, formerly with Anderson University and now working in the education services field, has produced an excellent short video that addresses the five little known ways identity thieves use your personal information and how they get it. http://www.idtoverview.com/262616.  The Office of the Indiana Attorney General offers valuable information at this link:  http://www.in.gov/attorneygeneral/2389.htm  It is also a place where you can get help if you are a victim.  Visit the web site of National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys here http://www.NAELA.org.  Contact me directly at 317-973-4555 or email rgeyer@rgeyerlaw.com.  I am always here to help you.