Financial Elder Abuse Nightmare Worthy of Stephen King

Here’s a story of financial elder abuse that reads like it’s straight out of a Stephen King novel. Like many of King’s stories, this real-life horror story also involves a small cabin in Maine where an 85-year old woman from California was finally liberated from “friends” who dragged her cross-country while draining her life savings like vampires.

After the victim’s funds were exhausted, she was left alone to fend for herself in 93-degree heat with no phone and very little food. Her “friends” — 41-year old twins Barbara and Nicholas Davis and 20-year-old Jonathan Stevans — have been charged with felony endangerment of a dependent…for starters.

The investigating detective has told ABC News that the case as “a textbook example” of financial elder abuse

The woman told authorities that she had sold her Los Angeles home in 2008 for $600,000, moving into an apartment complex where she met the suspects, who gradually won her confidence and gained access to her bank accounts and investments. No befuddlement or impairment on the woman’s part was to blame — she was in good health physically and mentally. Rather, she was lonely.

Read the full story.

The manager of the Pine Crest Motor Court in Edgecomb, Maine, called authorities when he became suspicious not long after the three perpetrators moved their elderly victim into the tiny cabin. As reported in The Lincoln County News, manager Jerry Pike said the Davis twins and Stevans originally inquired about rates for an extended stay…

“They wanted a deal for the season and told me their middle-aged mother was an artist who needed peace and quiet away from her children,” Pike said. “I was given a deposit, and I told them specifically that they couldn’t move in until I had all the money.”

Pike said the trio contacted him a few days later stating they were having trouble “coming up with the money” because of problems cashing a social security check.

“I became suspicious because they seemed like they had money. They drove what looked like a $50,000 truck and wore expensive clothes,” Pike said. “They talked like educated people.”

Pike said his suspicion peaked when the suspects said they were only able to access $100 a day despite traveling in what he described as lavish style.

Despite the suspects’ specific instructions not to bother the elderly woman, Pike checked on the cabin periodically by knocking gently to see if anyone was inside. Eventually the lack of a response became impossible to ignore, and he called a neighbor to check on the welfare of the woman. The pair called the sheriff’s office and requested the welfare check that led to the woman’s rescue.

Read the full story.

The sad truth about this sensational story is that most cases of financial elder abuse go unreported and undetected. Yes, it’s true that victims of financial elder abuse are often exploited by misplaced trust in helpful friends. But even more often the abusers are predatory caregivers or family members.

Financial elderly abuse is a growing crime that some experts estimate has affected as many as 3.5 million elderly. A recent study estimated total losses at $2.9 billion.

Don’t let your aging parents or loved ones become the victim of financial elder abuse. Check out these two outstanding (and free!) resources from the MetLife Mature Market Institute: Preventing Elder Financial Abuse for Older Adults and Preventing Elder Financial Abuse for Family Caregivers.

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Good News for Older Drivers: OnStar Now Available For ANY Vehicle

Good news for older drivers — or anyone who wants to have more peace of mind about the safety of an aging parent or elderly loved one who is still behind the wheel…

As of July 24, you’ll be able to retrofit just about ANY vehicle with OnStar — the emergency aid and vehicle location system from General Motors that has only been available on new GM vehicles. The aftermarket version of OnStar, called OnStar FMV (For My Vehicle), is actually a replacement rear-view mirror unit which contains the OnStar technology.

The core appeal for safety-minded older drivers is the simplicity of being able to get emergency help from a live person with the push of a button — and the peace of mind knowing that the system can detect accidents and send emergency help even if you cannot push that button.

In other words, if you or an aging parent or loved one is in an accident, you don’t have to rely on having a mobile phone — or being able to use one in a high-stress situation — in order to get help.

Also critical: The OnStar service will connect you or your loved one with a trained “emergency advisor” during an emergency. Whether an older driver has been in an accident, suffered a medical emergency, or has just become confused or lost, being able to speak with a live person can be enormously reassuring and calming.

Although OnStar FMV gives you access to the same core services that GM builds into new Chevy, Buik, GMC, and Cadillac vehicles, most aging drivers will probably find the basic emergency response and roadside assistance services most useful:

• Automatic Crash Response, triggered by an accelerometer in the unit, connects the vehicle to a trained OnStar emergency advisor in the event of a crash. The advisor can provide the exact location of the crash to emergency responders using the mirror’s GPS location, even if the vehicle’s occupants are unable to respond.

• Emergency Services, summoned by pushing the red button, bring specially trained emergency advisors on the line immediately to help in a crisis, such as witnessing a collision or a crime in progress.

• Roadside Assistance for non-emergency situations, such as a mechanical breakdown or a flat tire, is a blue-button push away.

• Stolen Vehicle Location Assistance uses OnStar FMV’s global positioning satellite system to provide a stolen vehicle’s location to law enforcement officials.

Read the full article

OnStar also offers a Turn-by-Turn Navigation service, an upgrade that may be worth every penny to technophobic older drivers who want nothing to do with dashboard navigation systems. Instead, the driver pushes the blue button to give an advisor a specific address or location. The advisor downloads directions to the unit, which plays back spoken turn-by-turn directions to the destination. 

This is a much easier and safer navigation solution for older drivers who don’t want to riskbeing distracted by looking at an LCD screen, or who don’t always safe leaving the car to ask for directions. OnStar FMV is also compatible with hands-free calling through a Blue-Tooth connection to a mobile phone. 

OnStar FMV will sell for $300 and will initially be available at Best Buy stores, where you can also have it installed for $75. The system will also be available through other chain and online retailers, but you’ll still need to have the unit installed professionally. The basic service plans start at $18.95 per month, or $199.95 per year. Adding the Turn-by-Turn Navigation option (which is bundled with optional hands-free calling for a mobile phone) costs 28.90 per month or $299 per year.

For more information, check out the OnStar FMV website.

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Online Safety Tips for Seniors

Are your aging parents safe online? Or are they setting themselves up as fresh bait for online scammers looking to steal their identity, destroy their credit, and drain their bank accounts?

Older adults have been a target for con artists and scammers as long as their have been older people and thieves. In fact, most scams that target the elderly are just new versions of time-proven scams that have been updated with a new twist — or new technology. And as more seniors go online, they are finding that it’s far too easy to skip or trip into an online minefield of trouble.

In a recent Huffington Post entry, Jason Alderman, Visa’s Senior Director of Financial Education, lists several key online safety tips for seniors worth sharing with the aging loved one in your life…

Update security software. Make sure their computers have anti-virus and anti-spyware software and show them how to update it regularly.

Think like the bad guys. Even the best software isn’t 100 percent foolproof, so teach them how to anticipate and ward off annoying — or criminal — behavior. For example:

  • Only open or download information from trusted sites to which you navigated yourself. Don’t assume a link contained in an email, even from a friend, will necessarily take you to a company’s legitimate website.
  • Don’t click on popup windows or banners that appear when you’re browsing a site.
  • Some common email scams that target seniors include offers for discounted drugs and low-cost insurance, and supposed warnings from the IRS — which, incidentally, never contacts taxpayers by email.
  • Financial institutions never email customers asking for verification of account or password information.
  • When shopping online, look for safety symbols, such as a padlock icon in the browser’s status bar, an “s” after “http” in the URL address, or the words “Secure Sockets Layer” (SSL) or “Transport Layer Security” (TLS). These are signs that the merchant is using a secure page for transmitting personal information.

These are all common tricks used to infect your computer with viruses or to install spyware that records your keystrokes to obtain account or other confidential information.

Read the full article

Alderman also points out that poor passwords continue to be a real threat to personal online security — especially if your aging parent or loved one uses passwords that a determined scammer can find on an “open to everyone” facebook profile.

Use strong passwords. Believe it or not, the most frequently used password is “password.” Other common, easy-to-crack passwords include simple numeric sequences and names of pets, spouses and children. For more secure passwords:

  • Use at least seven characters with a mixture of upper- and lower-case letters, numbers and symbols.
  • Use unique passwords for each account in case one gets compromised.
  • Change passwords frequently.
  • If you’re prone to forgetting, safely store a master list of passwords.

Protect personal information. Never post sensitive information on any website (or share via email, mail or phone) unless you initiated the contact. This might include numbers for credit cards, bank accounts, Social Security, Medicare and driver’s license, address/phone and full birthdate.

Criminals can easily piece together such information to steal your identity and open accounts in your name. Example: Your Facebook profile shows pictures of your dog, Rex. One of your bank’s security questions is, “What is your pet’s name?” Need I say more?

Set privacy controls. On social networking sites, carefully review privacy settings that let you limit who has access to your personal information.

Read the full article

If your aging parents or grandparents have recently joined the ranks of seniors online, they aren’t alone. More and more older adults are going online everyday. Many are initially motivated by a desire to keep up with their Facebook-savvy grandchildren. Some find their way online for the first time through Apple’s iPad, a touch-screen tablet computer that’s incredibly easy to use for newbies of all ages. And others just got fed up with feeling left out of the digital world.

The opportunity that the internet offers seniors is unlimited. But so are the risks. And in the hands of an inexperienced or unsuspecting senior, a computer keyboard or touchscreen can be as dangerous as letting a child chase a ball into the street.

Want to keep your aging parents or loved ones safe online? For more online safety tips for seniors, check out “Cyber Safe Seniors,” a free 60-page PDF download from Norton.

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Elderly Driver Safety Tip: How to Avoid Staged Accident Scams

Elderly drivers are favorite targets for staged accident scams, when professional thieves cause accidents on purpose to profit from insurance claims against unsuspecting motorists.

Elderly drivers are choice victims for these criminals, especially if they are driving alone in an upscale area in nice car that looks well-insured. The fact that some elderly drivers may be less attentive when driving, and more easily confused or intimidated after an accident makes them even more vulnerable.

According to a 2010 report from the National Insurance Crime Bureau, the top five states for staged accident questionable claims were Florida, New York, California, Texas, and Illinois.

“Staged auto accidents are a dangerous criminal activity that targets innocent drivers with increasingly bold schemes aimed at defrauding insurance companies,” says Loretta Worters, vice president with the Insurance Information Institute in New York City. “Not only do honest policyholders ultimately end up paying more for auto insurance, but those committing the fraud can cause serious injuries or death.”

At the least, getting into a forced accident costs a victim the inconvenience of having to take a vehicle in for repairs and having to deal with doctors, lawyers and insurance companies. A victim’s premiums could skyrocket because of the claim, or the insurance company might choose not to renew the policy.

Read the full article

The NICB notes that there are four common types of staged accident scams:

1. Swoop and Squat: Usually involves three vehicles; two are driven by criminals, the other is the victim. The driver of the “squat” vehicle positions his vehicle in front of the victim’s car. The driver of the “swoop vehicle” pulls ahead of the squat vehicle and internationally cuts it off, thus causing the squat vehicle driver to hit his breaks. The victim cannot react in time and rear ends the squat vehicle. The swoop vehicle races off and is not seen again. The innocent motorist states the swoop vehicle caused the accident, but because that driver cannot be located, the victim has to pay the vehicle damage and personal injury claims of passengers in the squat vehicle.

2. Side Swipe: Typically occurs at busy intersections with dual left turn lanes. The criminal positions his vehicle in the outer lane. As soon as the victim’s vehicle drifts into the outer turn lane, the criminal side-swipes it.

3. Panic stop: Here the criminal typically drives an older vehicle filled with passengers. The criminal positions his car in front of the victim’s while a backseat passenger in the criminal’s vehicle watches and waits for the innocent motorist to be distracted, for example, by a cell phone call. As soon as the victim is distracted, the driver slams on the brakes, causing the innocent motorist to rear-end the criminal’s vehicle. The victim’s insurance company must pay for vehicle damage as well as injuries that the passengers may claim to have suffered from the accident.

4. Drive down: In this scheme, the victim merges his vehicle into traffic after being motioned to do so by the criminal. As the innocent driver begins to merge, the criminal speeds up and causes a collision. When questioned, the criminal denies motioning the victim to merge into traffic or gives excuses.

Read the full article

Elderly drivers who want to avoid staged accident scams should keep these driver safety tips in mind:

• Maintain plenty of distance between you and the vehicle ahead of you in case the driver in front of you suddenly slams on the brakes.

• Stay focused. Turn off the radio and your cell phone. The more you can eliminate driving distractions, the easier it is to stay aware of the vehicles around you. Accident scammers trolling for victims are always on the lookout for other drivers talking on cell phones. It’s just easier to make their case that you weren’t paying attention to the road.

• Check your rear-view and side mirrors frequently. Elderly drivers often drive with tunnel-vision, narrow-focusing on the road ahead. This tendency is well-known and easy to spot by professional accident scammers.

If you are in an accident:

• Call 911 immediately. Even if there are no injuries or little damage, you want police assistance on scene as quickly as possible. If you are dealing with thieves, they may not be interested in filing a bogus accident claim. The staged accident may just be a pretense to get you out of your car to steal your wallet or your vehicle.

• Keep a disposable camera, pen and notebook in your glove compartment. If you are in an accident, you want to gather as much information as possible. If you think you are the victim of a staged accident, the first thing you should do is COUNT AND TAKE PHOTOS OF THE PASSENGERS. Get their names and telephone numbers. Scammers have been known to recruit people on the street to jump in to a vehicle before the police arrive to pad a claim with “victims” who were not in the car.

• Take pictures of the damage on both cars. To obtain a bigger claim, scammers have been known to turn small dents into major damage between the accident scene and the body shop.

• Notice how the other passengers behave. Do they seem hurt? Or do they wait for the police or ambulance to arrive before they act injured?

• Beware “strangers” on the street who try to direct you to a doctor, chiropractor, lawyer, or body shop. Or tow trucks that magically appear. Valets, parking attendants, or other bystanders who witnessed the “accident” may be part of the scam team. The last thing you want is to be further victimized by a crooked repair shop that only wants to pad your bill or a bogus health care provider that is more interested in billing your insurance than giving you proper care.

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Safe Aging at Home Tip: Elderly Should Beware Strangers in Uniform

Are you or your aging parents letting thieves who scam seniors in through the front door?

The elderly are ideal targets for scammers because they tend to be more trusting — especially if someone shows up at their front door wearing a uniform. Older adults who live alone, or who have begun to show signs of impaired judgement or memory are even more likely to be manipulated or intimidated.

Three recent news stories illustrate just how often seniors are opening their front doors to thieves posing as construction and utility workers, police officers, and even home health aids.

In Spartanberg County, SC, the sheriff is looking for a group of thieves who have been posing as construction workers to distract and burglarize unsuspecting seniors….

In the most recent incident… the men asked an 87-year-old Inman woman about construction “stobs,” or stakes in the ground. The woman went outside and spoke to several men, who said there was a new phone line going in around the area, an incident report said.

The woman told the men she would have to talk to her daughter and when she returned to her house, she found that the door had damaged around the knob. She asked the men to stay outside but the men pushed by her and went inside, the report said.

The men asked her where her money and prescription medication were, and they roamed her home for about 10 minutes, the report said. They later took her cell phone and ripped her phone line out of the wall before leaving. After the men left, the woman went to a neighbor’s home to call police.

Read the full story here

In Michigan, Grand Rapids police reported that a woman has been approaching seniors claiming to be a police officer to gain access to their homes…

…a 72-year-old resident walking in his neighborhood near Lake Michigan Drive NW and Collingdale avenue was approached by a woman identifying herself as a police officer and then talked her way into his house after showing a badge.

While in the house, the woman asked the intended victim about his finances and whether there was money in the home. The woman claimed she was investigating a “counterfeit ring” and said the resident matched the description. The woman got into an old white station wagon driven by someone else and took off, according to police.

Read the full story here

And in Delaware County, Penn., an elderly couple was victimized by a young woman wearing hospital scrubs who claimed she worked for the Delaware County Office of Services for the Aging…

The woman told the elderly man that she was there to check on his wife, who is confined to a bed because of medical issues, police said. The man let the woman inside and she spoke to his wife about her medical issues. After a few minutes, she left the home.

A short time later, the woman returned telling the man that her car had broken down and asked to use the phone. The man allowed her inside again, but this time the woman ran into the wife’s bedroom, went immediately to a bedside table and took a number of items, including cash and a check book. She ran back out the front door before the man could stop her. The suspect’s car was heard driving away toward Washington Street, police said.

Read the full story here

How can you tell if the person ringing your bell really works for the utility company or the police? The following safe aging at home tips can help protect yourself or your aging parents the next time a wolf in sheep’s clothing comes a knockin’ at the front door:

• Don’t open the door! You are not being rude. This is a matter of security, not manners. Whatever needs to be said can be said with you safely inside. Never allow someone you don’t know or trust to literally “get a foot” in your door.

• Beware bogus utility worker scam teams working in pairs. One thief distracts their elderly victim by convincing them to go outside to the backyard or into the basement. Meanwhile, the other thief sneaks in the front door, or pretends to go the bathroom, or to check the gas appliances for leaks. While you are busy outside, the second scammer is stealing any valuables he or she can find.

• Look for a marked utility vehicle with your local utility company’s logo in front of your house or in your driveway.  No sign of a properly marked utility vehicle is a red flag. So are unmarked utility trucks or personal vehicles with “peel off” magnetic signs.

• Don’t be fooled by what appears to be a uniform or an identification badge. Generic uniforms can be made to look official with the right patches. Besides, would you know how to tell a genuine utility worker ID or a police badge from a fake?

• Confirm any letters, door hangers, or phone calls from a utility company that say workers will be in your neighborhood or will need access to your home. Important: Look up the number in a phone book or online AND CALL THE UTILITY COMPANY YOURSELF.

Increasingly, sophisticated scammers who want to put skeptical victims at ease are giving advanced notice that someone will knock at your door — just like real utility companies. The notice may be on utility company letterhead, but the “confirmation number” may be answered by one of the scammers or a bogus recorded message. For the same reason…

• Verify any unexpected visits from utility workers or the police by calling the utility company or the police station yourself. Do not let the person on the other side of your front door give you a number to speak with their “supervisor.” Do not let them have someone call you from the utility company or the station, or dial a number for you on their cell phone. And never, ever let anyone in your home to use your phone.

• If the stranger in uniform at your door says it’s an emergency or you have even the slightest doubt that something isn’t right, call 911. The police take calls about people impersonating cops very seriously. If the gas or electric utility workers are for real, they will have no problems waiting for the police to verify their identity. And the police take calls about people impersonating cops very seriously.

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