My Fight Against Charity Fraud

Early in my caregiver journey with my parents, I recognized that my mother was writing checks to charities that they had never previously supported. I didn’t realize how prevalent it was for older adults to change giving habits until I started helping another older adult and saw her giving in ways that didn’t line up with her prior habits.

I knew it made my mom feel good to write those checks. However, what I didn’t know at the time was that that first donation turned my mom into a charity magnet and it resulted in a magnitude of mail NO ONE wants to manage.

Sadly, many good charities have turned over the solicitation to for-profit companies that get and sell your name. It turns out that is why giving to one charity can often create a cascade of new mail solicitations.

My experience and telling my story resulted in me being interviewed on The Perfect ScamSM a project of the AARP Fraud Watch Network, which equips consumers with the knowledge to recognize and avoid scams.

You can reach a summary of the podcast here as well as follow the link to hear more about our experience. It is a common experience. You show up at your loved ones’ home and see the piles of mail. In this podcast you will learn why this happens and how to fight back. Told.

The allure of a ringing phone

Living in the DC metro area has made me numb to politics. However, stories like the recent one FCC threatens carriers with ‘regulatory intervention’ over robocalls are hopeful. However, that means there is still a lot of scammers out there making calls and reaching our loved ones. And too often they are very successful — which is why they keep calling.

The tools I implemented in my own home as well as for my clients no longer work. Many of the calls are sneaking through the protections that used to be so effective.

The reality is that now the ONLY defense is to NOT ANSWER THE PHONE. If you don’t recognize a call, let it go to voicemail. When you listen to voicemail, be careful to discern who is legitimate. That part is tough.

What I see in the homes of my clients that are isolated is how excited they are to hear a ringing phone. Regardless of my recommendations, they generally just answer. The insult to injury is how difficult it is to contest and win the credit card charges when we later find out which ones were successful.

If your loved one is still at home and you can, you might consider posting a note on or near the phone:

  • The phone scammers are smart and crafty.
  • Don’t answer unless you know the caller.
  • Never give out ANY of your personal information.
  • Don’t give anyone your Credit Card numbers over the phone.
  • Call me if you need some help following up on: _______________________

Sometimes, all you can do is work to help defend those that need help. Please let me know if you have any solutions that are working for you and your loved ones now. Interested.

Simple Steps to Safe Guard a Loved Ones Finances

After caring for two parents with dementia, I remind myself how much the checkbook meant to my mother. She had always managed the household finances and the suggestion that she was unable to manage a checkbook safely was something that needed to be left unsaid. I found that out after I said it a few times. ; <

The biggest problem I faced was a lost purse that contained the checkbook. She thought she left it in a cab, a store, at a bridge game … I couldn’t manage the hours each week spent looking for her purse. Today you can at least get a tile which would have been immensely helpful in keeping track of her handbag, but it wasn’t an option yet.

There are options to consider if your loved one would like to continue to manage their purchases:

  • Open up a new checking account and fund it with a small amount of money that can afford to be lost. I did this for my Mom. She had her checkbook, and I could move money into her account in small amounts as it needed to be replenished. If the checkbook never turned up or she had a check stolen we could easily close the account.
  • Consider setting up a TrueLink card. It is basically a credit card where you can set up limits on how much can be charged as well as products and services that it won’t fund. There is a fee for it, but the small expense is worth the money it will most likely save in potential losses.

Unfortunately, I have recently had clients both at home and living in communities be a victim of caregiver exploitation. One got my client to write her a small check, one purchased some face cream for my client and asked her for repayment of $85, and another apparently kept asking for gas money. Most agencies and communities require their caregivers agree to never accept money or gifts from clients. Should a client give them money, it needs to be reported to the community or agency. In the past month, I have reported three caregivers for violating this condition of employment. Sadly, I know they will just turn up at another agency.

What I struggled with was that this was one of the few remaining freedoms for my mom. She could no longer drive, or run the bridge games she loved, and that checkbook gave her an empowered sense of self. Now as a Daily Money Manager, I see all the ways that people are trying to get at the money of my clients.

Ultimately, someone needs to be vigilant about minding the finances as well as considering how to layer in these protections. A few bad apples spoil the lot. Reported.

The law in Virginia to protect elders fails us all.

This is a follow up to my last blog about being subpoenaed in an elder fraud case. Sadly, the commonwealth attorney and police detective both know that the woman stole money money from my client. At 91, she suffers from Parkinson’s but can walk on her own, feed herself (and help feed others), and you can often have pleasant conversations with her and she initiates questions back to you. She also has the cognitive issues that can come in tandem with Parkinson’s. When I first met her she presented with more short-term memory loss and had organization issues. The Parkinson’s was diagnosed a year after I stepped in to help with the daily money management and bill pay support.

The caregiver admitted to the detective she asked for the money. My client apparently told the detective the woman asked her for money. Taking money from clients is against the employment agreement she signed in addition to being an ethical failure.

I do know that my client had no idea where the checkbook was located in her apartment, nor could she have written the check on her own. The caregiver rooted through my clients belongings to find the checkbook.

I studied the check and it was easy to see that my client started to write the check (shaky, sloping hand-writing), but then someone else finished writing the check. I had samples to show that the way the check was written was very different (she wrote dollars and cents which my client never did). I figured a handwriting expert would not be on hand, but as a Daily Money Manager I could point out how I could tell that someone else finished writing the check.

After waiting for three hours for the case to be called, the attorney tells me (and the community care manager who was also there to testify) that only if we can confirm that my client didn’t understand that writing the check took money from her account would we get a conviction. So they DISMISSED the case. It will be VERY hard to convict someone based on how the current law is written. You will see the statute below which also illustrates the lack of knowledge around dementia.

Two good outcomes from this include:
1) The charge is now on her record so hopefully it will dissuade other
home care agencies and communities from hiring her again.
2) She is paying back the money.

The reality for those of us that have loved ones with dementia is that we know one could NEVER truly say they don’t understand that the money came from their account until very late stages of the disease. We witness a variety of ways their intellect shines through this horrible diagnosis.

So the LAW will fail us … at least in the Commonwealth of Virginia. I am putting together best practices to consider now that we know our hands are tied when we try to prosecute those who would take advantage of older adults with cognitive issues. Even if we can’t get the conviction, it is in our best interests to always report it to the police. The fighter in me is just getting going. Alerted.

§ 18.2-178.1. Financial exploitation of mentally incapacitated persons; penalty.

A. It is unlawful for any person who knows or should know that another person suffers from mental incapacity to, through the use of that other person’s mental incapacity, take, obtain, or convert money or other thing of value belonging to that other person with the intent to permanently deprive him thereof. Any person who violates this section shall be deemed guilty of larceny.

B. Venue for the trial of an accused charged with a violation of this section shall be in any county or city in which (i) any act was performed in furtherance of the offense or (ii) the accused resided at the time of the offense.

C. This section shall not apply to a transaction or disposition of money or other thing of value in which the accused acted for the benefit of the person with mental incapacity or made a good faith effort to assist such person with the management of his money or other thing of value.

D. As used in this section, “mental incapacity” means that condition of a person existing at the time of the offense described in subsection A that prevents him from understanding the nature or consequences of the transaction or disposition of money or other thing of value involved in such offense.

It’s time to show up and fight back against Elder Fraud

As this appears, I will be testifying in court against elder fraud. A personal care assistant in my client’s memory care community coerced her to write her a check. Her story is ridiculous and includes tasks sadly my client has been unable to perform for over a year.

This woman has been working in elder care for nearly a decade. Not only did a check get written to her but I also found that my clients credit card was missing. The problem is that most families faced with these issues just don’t have the energy to fight.

I know. I could have fought the many banks that were refusing to accept my power of attorney, but after all of the visits, and tasks to help mom, starting a law suit was the last thing on my mind.

I have pledged to my clients that any work done to fight against fraud is done pro-bono. Many Daily Money Managers donate their time to help out fight frauds and scams on behalf of their clients and I’m honored to be in such a stand-up group of professionals. It is in all of our best interests to get these creeps away from our loved ones and I’m always game for a good fight. Bring it.

The indignity of aging: Caregiver Exploitation

stealmemeIn the past few weeks, I’ve been involved with three older adults who have been the victim of fraud and exploitation and it’s both fueling my commitment to serving older adults and whittling away my belief in humanity.

It’s been distressing and discouraging on many levels.

Every year, the National Council on Aging predicts that $17 Billion is taken by businesses, individuals, and charities that use pressure tactics or misleading language to lead seniors into financial mistakes.

CAREGIVER EXPLOITATION: The first older adult lives in an assisted living community. She is unable to manage her affairs now and I pay the bills on her behalf. She’s been declining and a new caregiver coached her through writing a check for $100.  When I discovered it, I immediately reported it to the community and it resulted in the loss of her job.

I’ve been working with this client for more than two years and know that it would have taken at least ten minutes for her to write that check. She would have been unable to complete it without step-by-step coaching. We reported it to the police and hope they will be able to charge her for this crime. What I learned during this process is that she has been working in senior-living communities for almost a decade. YIKES!

Did she start small to see if anyone noticed the check?  Had we not found it, would she have returned for more money every week?

I’m not sure we will ever truly know.  What I do know is that she most likely made my client very uncomfortable and that makes me angry and sad.

I decided that what I could do was to let the owners of the local home care agencies know her name and what she did. Gotta admit that I made A LOT of phone calls. However, I hope that it can help avoid this happening to someone else. None of these agencies would want her on their payroll. I’m sorry that it’s not easier to prosecute those that pray on older adults.

This is just a reminder that being watchful and protective can make a huge difference for those you love. Fueled. 

Impostor Scams Net $328 Million

scamalertA girlfriend just shared how her mom, who is in good health and of sound mind, received a call that she (my girlfriend) had been kidnapped. They wanted her mom to immediately drive to a check cashing place and wire money for her release. Her mom tried to text and call on a second phone, by her daughter was in an appointment with her phone off.  Thankfully, her mom navigated it well but it was a quite a traumatic event. Her mom lives in a condo and kept the people on the phone while she went down to the concierge who called the police and helped. However, she was wondering if her mom was really of sound mind if she fell for this.

I confirmed to her that really smart people can be victims of this scam because the fraudsters are so good. In fact the FTC reported that the kidnapping scam is the top “Imposter Scam” for 2017 and cost Americans at least $328 million.

For those of us caring or concerned about loved ones that live alone, I hope you will consider how you can implement a call screening service or device to help eliminate these callers. I implemented this system in my own home and never answer an unidentified call at home or on my mobile phone.

As a Daily Money Manager, I work with older adults in their homes and one of the first things I do is implement a call screening solution. In metro-DC, I can implement Nomorobo which is free service from Verizon. The Nomorobo website can help you find out if you can get their free service in your area.

If you can’t get a service like Nomorobo, you can purchase a call blocking device like Sentry 2 that lets you blacklist numbers. It does require that you tag calls to the “blacklist” to block, and you can also add numbers and only get calls from those on your “whitelist”. It can fill the need but does require assistance to be effective.

Two other simple options include:

  1. Sign up for “Anonymous Call Rejection” with your local carrier. This service rejects calls from anyone that has blocked their caller ID information. It is usually something you can enable using *77 but varies by provider.
  2. Suggesting they never answer the phone if they don’t recognize the number.  A doctor, or friend will leave a message and they can easily call back

For many, the comfort of home and the costs can make aging in place the best choice. However, there are many things to consider to make sure our loved ones are safe. Advised. 

For more on this topic, check out this story:

How to Avoid Becoming a Victim of a Virtual Kidnapping Scam The Washington Post

Is someone taking advantage of a loved one?

familyfraudmemeI see reports about fraud in the family and am never sure who has the right stats. The National Council of Aging reports one set of metrics, and a recent report from AARP says that 75 percent of the abuse is committed by family, friend, or neighbor.

Regardless of the figures, I hope that everyone considers having two set’s of independent eyes on the money. In my family, I did the day-to-day finances, but my siblings had access too, and I reported on the cash flow and expenses. We thankfully, all got along.

For families with siblings that won’t work well together, it might help to look outside the family to set up a way to report on the money. That is one reason I get hired as a Daily Money Manager. I work with the parent, but report to the sibling/financial advisor/estate lawyer. It helps to have two independent individuals with oversight and to provide checks and balances. Hiring a professional can eliminate the conflict that comes with disagreements about money.

I’m troubled as a family caregiver to hear that family is taking advantage of a loved one financially. The story FRAUD in The Family (Feb. 2018) from AARP is a good lesson in the many ways estate plans might fail to serve your best interests.

If you are worried about a loved one, some suggestions include:

  1. Stay in Touch. You will be surprised by what they might share with you or overhear when you are calling. Skype and Facetime are very helpful since they also let you see the individual as well as get a look at their surroundings to know if the home is being maintained.
  2. Understand Cognitive Decline. In general, the processing in our brains slows and most notice changes starting in our 50s. If you are noticing cognitive issues or trouble with bills and managing the checkbook, you can suggest getting some help with the day-to-day finances. Beware of setting up auto-payments since once this is done, most people stop looking at their checking and credit card statements. That is very problematic due to the number of fraudsters and scammers. I have only had 1 client this year that wasn’t being charged for things they didn’t order or want.
  3. Who is in the House? From caregivers that aren’t properly vetted, to renters who are stealing — Understanding who is in the home is important. It helps to take a photo inventory, as well as make frequent and unannounced visits should you find someone is stealing from a loved one.

It stinks that we have to layer onto the loss by bringing in additional oversight and protection. However, it is one way you can ensure your loved one is well-served. Suggested. 


Elder Fraud: The Silent Epidemic

elderfraudstoryFinancial fraud is stealing $36 billion from our elders every year. So often, they don’t recognize it or they are too ashamed to tell family members for fear of repercussions. The Equifax breach is just one more in a long line of complications. One of the things you might do for yourself and your loved ones is to put a lock on your credit. When you need it, you can unlock it, so it will require an extra step … but that is GOOD!

To learn more about getting a free credit report and how to put a lock on your credit, visit this site hosted by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. 

For those worried about loved one, I found doing things for myself first and talking about it or asking advice was one way to have a discussion with my parent’s about what might be an uncomfortable topic. When we needed to redo the Durable Power of Attorney for my parents, I first talked about who I listed and why. Even with a diagnosis of dementia, both of my parent’s were deemed to have decisional capacity by a doctor. And we could and did have a conversation about the issue and it resulted in making changes that they understood and were comfortable with.

It might be a good time to bring this up with a parent you are concerned about. After you go through the process yourself, you could suggest it for mom and/or dad, and let them know how easy it was.

The first step is to take a look at your credit report. As I recently shared, I found that accounts of my deceased mother were listed on my credit report. You never know what you might find! The next step is to consider putting a lock on your credit. It won’t protect your or your loved ones from exploitation, but anything you can do to minimize yours, and your loved ones risk, is a good thing.

To learn more about some of the scams you can watch this CNBC report. Shared.