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.

Why Auto-Debit is a Bad Habit

In my work as a Daily Money Manager, I meet with people who have set up auto-payments on their credit cards and have no idea about the source of several charges. In an audit of 20 new clients, I had only 1 that did’t have a variety of charges on their credit account they couldn’t explain. As we investigate those charges, they realize they were for things they don’t use, or worse, never recalled subscribing to.

This is the “set it and forget it” option.

What’s the harm? Over the course of a year, it’s typically over one thousand dollars. In a few cases this year, I had clients who it was costing several thousands dollars a year. Charities, face creams, supplements, a shipping service, iTunes/App subscriptions … it’s easy to get lost in the list of charges. The scammers are crafty.

The most frustrating are the charities. I find that many clients don’t realize they were giving to a charity every month. This usually happens to those that respond to phone solicitors. Somewhere in the conversation, you might have agreed to make the donation every month.

You hate to tell someone to cancel funding a good cause, however, many of the people I work with need to focus on funding their care for the rest of their lives, and that few hundred dollars a month can make a big difference over the coming years.

I get it! Life is busy. I have set up and use auto-debits, but in particular for credit cards, I set it at a modest amount so that if I miss the payment, I have at least met the minimum payment. This forces me to review my bills every month to make sure no nefarious charges are showing up. If I don’t recognize something, I call the phone number that is listed on the bill.

If you see something, do something!  In the end, you will be rewarded for your efforts. It’s up to you to keep a close eye on your credit and finances, if you don’t, someone else may!

Males Most Susceptible to Scams

According to the BBB Scam Tracker Annual Risk Report, Males are the most susceptible to 7 of the top 10 scams they studied. While I think the reports on scams are hard to pin down because from what I’ve witnessed, many people that have been exploited didn’t even recognize it. This report summarized over 32,000 scam reports reported to the BBB with the top scam being home improvement. It might just be that more males report being taken advantage of than females.


The reality is that there are too many people that make a living by cheating others out of their money. The best way to combat these concerns is to start thinking about how you can protect yourself from becoming a victim. One of the ways I suggest to clients when they find out they were taken advantage of is to reflect back on the offer. Was it too good to be true?  Should an offer for something free require your credit card? Did your gut hurt because you felt pressured into making a decision?

I know it seems silly to suggest using your stomach as a guide, but most often our basic human instincts still exist to protect from all kinds of trouble. Suggested. 

The Subtle Elder Abuse You Might Not Notice

fraudYour loved one wants to stay in their home and you are concerned. Over and over, I’m finding that even my clients who have involved adult children are victims of some subtle forms of elder abuse that is stealing away hundreds to thousands of dollars of their parent’s money.

In the past month, I’ve had a client that got taken by a face cream offer. She does not have any cognitive issues and is now caring for a loved one with Parkinson’s. She never managed the money, so she asked me to step in to help her understand and manage the cash flow and help with budgeting since the expenses are starting to escalate with her husband’s care. When we started to review the credit card, I asked her what Lye Ludermacell was. She said it was a “free” face cream trial where she paid for shipping. Well, there was more than $200 of other charges for products on her credit card. She was very angry, as have been several thousands of clients taken in by the same scam. Michelle Singletary (The Washington Post) wrote about it earlier this month. We called to cancel and recouped 75% of the charges on the products she had received. We discussed how ANY offer, no matter how credible looking that says FREE and then asks for a credit card is trouble.  Had we not looked through her credit card billing item by item, she may not have noticed for months–if even at all.  So many older adults just set the bill on auto-pay and don’t scan the monthly bills. That is a very dangerous habit when so many individuals and even organizations are working to get to your money.

A few months ago, I spent more than 45 minutes with Juno trying to cancel the service for dial-up Internet my client was still paying for. She just never thought to question the monthly $9.95 billing for Juno even though she had wifi in her house. We also found a “free shipping” subscription billing her $25 monthly she had no idea how to use or what it was. So Juno took over $1,000 of her money and the shipping subscription had been billing her for two years for more than $600 of her money. I have ten zillions ways I could spend $1,600!

The one issue that is troubling me the most is for a client with mild cognitive impairment who generally is doing fine living at home. Not only is his daughter involved, but I visit him twice a week and we have an Aging Life Care Manager Another who is helping manage his medical visits and medications. When I noticed he had a physical therapy (PT) appointment on his schedule and neither his daughter or the Aging Life Care Manager knew about it, I made a point to stop by during his next PT session at home. It turns out that six months ago, his doctor recommend PT and they had an agency come in for a few weeks. It was determined after a few visits that he didn’t need it any longer.

So here’s the dirty underbelly of health care — somehow the first company passed the order to an affiliate who called my client to say the doctor ordered PT and started scheduling both PT and Occupational Therapy appointments (medication management). When I shared what I found, his daughter quickly called to shut down the service and cancel all future appointments, but the first few visits were billed to his Medicare account. Technically, the health care agency was implementing the doctors order, but it was already determined he didn’t need the services by the first therapist.

It’s the small issues that can add up making someone with cognitive issues living alone incredibly tricky. You want them to maintain the independence and lead the life they want, but you are faced with a number of risks from safety and fraud that mean another choice might be better. Conflicted.