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Fraudsters Continue to Target Elderly

The National Council on Aging reports that seniors lose an estimated $3 billion to financial scams, which is the worst possible time in life to lose money. There’s simply no time to replace the money. Why scammers target the elderly is easy to understand, as reported in the article “Scam Alert: 4 Types of Fraud That Target the Elderly (and How to Beat Them)” from Kiplinger. People who are 50 years and older hold 83% of the wealth in America, and households headed by people 70 years and up have the highest median net worth. That is where the money is.

The other factor: seniors were raised to mind their manners. An older American may feel it’s rude to hang up on a fast-talking scammer, who will take advantage of their hesitation. Lonely seniors are also happy to talk with someone. Scammers also target widows or divorced older women, thinking they are more vulnerable.

Here are the most common types of scams today:

Imposter scams. The thief pretends to be someone you can trust to trick you into giving them your personal information like a password, access to a bank account or Social Security number. This category includes phone calls pretending to be from the Social Security Administration or the IRS. They often threaten arrest or legal action. Neither the IRS nor the SSA ever call people to ask for personal information. Hang up!

Medicare representative. A person calls claiming to be a representative from Medicare to get older people to provide personal information. Medicare won’t call to ask for your Social Security number or to obtain bank information to give you new benefits. Phone scammers are able to “spoof” their phone numbers—what may appear on your caller ID as a legitimate office is not actually a call coming from the agency. Before you give any information, hang up. If you have questions, call Medicare yourself.

Lottery and sweepstakes scams. These prey on the fear of running out of money during retirement. These scams happen by phone, email and snail mail, congratulating the recipient with news that they have won a huge lottery or sweepstakes, but the only way to access the prize is by paying a fee. The scammers might even send a paper check to cover the cost of the fee, but that check will bounce. Once you’ve sent the fee money, they’ll pocket it and be gone.

What can you do to protect yourself and your loved ones? Conversations between generations about money become even more important as we age. If an elderly parent talks up a new friend who is going to help them, a red flag should go up. If they are convinced that they are getting a great deal, or a windfall of money from a contest, talk with them about how realistic they are being. Make sure they know that the IRS, Medicare and Social Security does not call to ask for personal information.

For those who have not been able to see elderly parents because of the pandemic, this summer may reveal a lot of what has occurred in the last year. If you are concerned that they have been the victims of a scam, start by filing a report with their state’s attorney general office.

Reference: Kiplinger (June 10, 2021) “Scam Alert: 4 Types of Fraud That Target the Elderly (and How to Beat Them)”

Can a Person with Alzheimer’s Sign Legal Documents?

If a loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or any other form of dementia, it is necessary to address legal and financial issues as soon as possible. The person’s ability to sign documents and take other actions to protect themselves and their assets will be limited as the disease progresses, so there’s no time to wait. This recent article “Financial steps to take when dealing with Alzheimer’s” from Statesville Record & Landmark explains the steps to take.

Watch for Unusual Financial Activity

Someone who has been sensible about money for most of his life may start to behave differently with his finances. This is often an early sign of cognitive decline. If bills are piling up, or unusual purchases are being made, you may need to prepare to take over his finances. It should be noted that unusual financial activity can also be a sign of elder financial abuse.

Designate a Power of Attorney

The best time to designate a person to take care of finances is before she shows signs of dementia. It’s not an easy conversation, but it is very important. Someone needs to be identified who can be trusted to manage day-to-day money matters, who can sign checks, pay bills and supervise finances. If possible, it may be easier if the POA gradually eases into the role, only taking full control when the person with dementia can no longer manage on her own.

An individual needs to be legally competent to complete or update legal documents including wills, trusts, an advanced health care directive and other estate planning documents. Once such individual is not legally competent, the court must be petitioned to name a family member as a guardian, or a guardian will be appointed by the court. It is far easier for the family and the individual to have this handled by an estate planning attorney in advance of incompetency.

An often-overlooked detail in cases of Alzheimer’s is the beneficiary designations on retirement, financial and life insurance policies. Check with an estate planning attorney for help, if there is any question that changes may be challenged by the financial institution or by heirs.

Cost of Care and How It Will Be Paid

At a certain point, people with dementia cannot live on their own. Even those who love them cannot care for them safely. Determining how care will be provided, which nursing facility has the correct resources for a person with cognitive illness and how to pay for this care, must be addressed. An elder law estate planning attorney can help the family navigate through the process, including helping to protect family assets through the use of trusts and other planning strategies.

If the family has a strong history of Alzheimer’s disease or other cognitive diseases, it makes sense to do this sort of preparation far in advance. The sooner it can be addressed, even long before dementia symptoms appear, the better the outcome will be.

Reference: Statesville Record & Landmark (April 11, 2021) “Financial steps to take when dealing with Alzheimer’s”

dementia

Baseball Champion Sues Daughter-In-Law, denies having Dementia

Eighty-two-year-old Giants great Orlando Cepeda filed a lawsuit against his daughter-in-law Camille Cepeda alleging elder financial abuse, fraud and infliction of emotional distress, as reported in the article “Giants great Orlando Cepeda denies having dementia, sues daughter-in-law for fraud” from the San Francisco Chronicle. He also accused her of negligence in handling his finances, after giving her power of attorney in 2018.

Cepeda accuses Camille of spending his money on personal expenses, including lease payments on a $62,000 Lexus, a Louis Vuitton handbag, expensive wine and taking out at least $24,000 in cash from his accounts. It also claims that she has placed all of his baseball memorabilia in a storage locker and will not give him the key or the location of the locker. That includes his National League Most Valuable Player trophy, which he wants back.

This is the latest news from a dispute that began after the Hall of Famer married his second wife, Nydia. They had two of Cepeda’s four sons, including Ali Cepeda, who is married to Camille. The parents are now not speaking to their son, and some of the brothers, four in total, have taken sides and are not speaking to each other.

Cepeda granted his daughter-in-law power of attorney in April 2018, two months after he suffered a heart attack and irreversible brain damage caused by oxygen deprivation. She was to have access to his accounts and pay his bills. Before the heart attack, she had handled his financial and business affairs.

On May 29, Camille filed a petition with the court seeking conservatorship of Cepeda, stating that he has dementia and cannot make his own financial decisions. Two of Cepeda’s sons, including Camille’s husband Ali, filed papers supporting her petition.

In Cepeda’s response, he cited two neuropsychological reports, including one done in May, that declared that he was fit to make his own medical decisions and understands all but the most complex financial issues. Cepeda says that his daughter-in-law filed for conservatorship to cover up the fraud that he is alleging in the lawsuit. He says that he does not need a conservator, and if anyone should have that role, it would be his wife Nydia.

The lawsuit filed by Cepeda offers a glimpse into why he believes she wants conservatorship, saying he doesn’t have the capacity to understand the nature and consequences of his remarriage, nor his decision to remove Camille as power of attorney and grant it to Nydia.

The suit alleges that Camille was opposed to the marriage from the start and even suggested they stage a fake ceremony that would not be legally sanctioned.

Cepeda’s lawsuit seeks damages, legal fees and demands that Camille return his memorabilia and all financial records she has allegedly refused to provide to account for how she handed his money. The suit also cites a $62,000 withdrawal to pay Cepeda’s tax bill, which was not actually paid. The filing says she was negotiating with the IRS, but she will not provide the documentation that he needs to settle with the government. Nor did she pay a medical bill for $6,800, although she did cash a check from the insurance company that was sent to pay for it.

Cepeda remains hopeful that the entire matter may be settled, before the case returns to court.

“It’s very painful,” Cepeda told a reporter. “I love my family. I love my kids. But this is life. You have to do what you have to do.”

Reference: San Francisco Chronicle (June 26, 2020) “Giants great Orlando Cepeda denies having dementia, sues daughter-in-law for fraud”

elder financial abuse

Elder Financial Abuse Risk Increasing for Seniors Isolated by Pandemic

The extended isolation and loneliness during the coronavirus pandemic is creating the perfect storm for financial exploitation of seniors, who are unable to visit with family members and friends, reports Fredericksburg Today in the article “SCC urges awareness of investment fraud among seniors due to increased pandemic isolation.” The unprecedented need to forgo socializing makes seniors who are already at risk, even more vulnerable.

In the past, scammers would deliberately strike during a health crisis or after the death of a loved one. By gathering data from obituaries and social media, even establishing relationships with support and social groups, scammers can work their way into seniors’ lives.

Social distancing and the isolation necessary to protect against the spread of the coronavirus has left many seniors vulnerable to people posing as their new friends. The perpetrators may not just be strangers: family members are often the ones who exploit the elderly. The pandemic has also led to changes in procedures in care facilities, which can lead to increased confusion and dependence for the elderly, who do not always do well with changes.

Here are a few key markers for senior financial abuse:

  • A new friend or caregiver who is overly protective and has gotten the person to surrender control of various aspects of their life, including but not limited to finances.
  • Fear or a sudden change in how they feel towards family members and/or friends.
  • A reluctance to discuss financial matters, especially if they say the new friend told them not to talk about their money with others.
  • Sudden changes in spending habits, or unexplained changes to wills, new trustees, or changes to beneficiary designations.
  • Large checks made out to cash, or the disappearance of assets.
  • Signatures on checks or estate planning documents that appear different than past signatures.

Not being able to visit in person makes it harder for family members to discern what is happening.  However, there are a few steps that can be taken by concerned family members. Stay in touch with the family member, by phone, video calls, texts or any means possible. Remind loved ones that scammers are always looking for an opportunity and may try to exploit them during the pandemic.

Every community has resources that can help, if elder financial abuse is a concern. An elder law estate planning attorney will be able to direct concerned family members or friends to local resources to protect their loved ones.

Reference: Fredericksburg Today (June 20, 2020) “SCC urges awareness of investment fraud among seniors due to increased pandemic isolation”

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