Be aware of these growing COVID-19 scams

Last week we talked a little bit about scammers’ quick moves to exploit upcoming Economic Impact Payments. Impersonating government employees representing legitimate federal agencies, scam artists are preying on anxious Americans waiting for financial relief.

But this stimulus scam wasn’t the first COVID-19-related strategy used to rook vulnerable victims. Scammers have seen the opportunities in this disaster since the very start. The seemingly endless amount of angles they can take can make spotting the the fake offers and appeals extremely difficult—especially when so many legitimate organizations and businesses are reaching out to the public, too.

We’re not trying to be funny when we say these scams have gone completely viral. In the same way this illness has run rampant, dominating the global conversation, these scams have taken over in place of the usual phishing and sales scams we see every day. Right now, it’s all about using pandemic fears to drain as many victims as possible. And unfortunately, it’s very lucrative.

As we said, it’s not just the stimulus confusion scammers are using. In fact, it may be that while we’re all on the lookout for IRS, SSA, and Treasury fraudsters, we’re more susceptible to the ones using more subtle or unexpected tactics to separate us from our cash:

Snake Oil Salesmen

Let’s face it: there is no cure for Coronavirus—at least not yet, anyway. And in all likelihood, there will never be one. Most viruses haven’t been and can’t be “cured.”

Viruses are not bacteria, a living organism we can attack with antibiotics and kill. Viruses are tricky. They’re an entity that embeds itself into our cells and uses our normal cell functions against us. The only thing that can “cure” a sickness in this case is our own immune system. We can support our bodies in that fight by vaccinating, using antivirals, and treating the life-threatening symptoms of the illness, but as for “curing” it? We’ve still got a long path ahead.

We say this to shine some light on the “I have the cure!” scammers. Even if it was possible for someone to miraculously produce a true-blue viral cure in a matter of months, it would absolutely swallow the headlines—not just because there was a real cure to COVID-19, but because it would be an extraordinary thing for anyone to develop a drug that zapped any virus in the way scammers claim.

Medical researchers all over the world are working day and night to develop therapies to stop this thing. But the best medical minds in the world have only just initiated human clinical trials on a vaccine. Proving the efficacy and safety of the vaccine may still take well over a year. The day a vaccine proves out, we’ll know about it—and not because some jerk crept into our email inbox to get us to buy it.

The bottom line is this: anyone contacting you claiming to have a cure, vaccine, or treatment for Coronavirus is lying at best. At worst? They may be selling people completely unfounded, unstudied, and baseless snake oil concoctions that could be extremely dangerous. Ignore 100% of these claims and these people.

Fake Virus Testing

Spring has sprung, and with it, all of the sneezing, coughing, itchy eyes, and respiratory woes allergy sufferers endure every year. But this time, it’s different. Is it hay fever? Is it the dreaded Spring cold? Is my asthma being aggravated? Or did I touch my face when I shouldn’t have?

This is a really, really bad time to have pollen sensitivities. People who would ordinarily wave away the sniffles will be coming down with a bad case of the “But What Ifs.” And this isn’t a great time for anyone to be visiting their doctors or hospitals if they aren’t certain they need assistance.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could all just visit a testing station or order a COVID-19 test kit through the mail? If only for the peace of mind?

It would. That’s why scammers thought of it, too.

Fake testing sites and testing-by-mail scams are popping up all over the country. Investigators in Kentucky are rooting out bogus drive-thru testing sites. In Virginia, phone impostors are directing residents to fraudulent testing facilities. Customs officers in Los Angeles seized a significant amount of counterfeit testing kits at LAX.

These tests are being offered to the public for ludicrous amounts of money and do absolutely nothing to detect the virus. They may even put victims at risk for identity theft should they be asked to pay with a credit card or show identification.

Trust absolutely no COVID-19 test without speaking to your primary care physician first. While there are legitimate drive-thru testing sites in many states, you should always, always, always consult your doctor before taking any kind of medical action. Doing so will ensure you’re taking a legitimate test, and it will keep everyone off of the streets seeking tests they may not need. Do only what your doctor thinks is best.

Protective Gear Scams

The CDC now recommends we all use masks when going into public. More and more people are opting to wear latex gloves to touch cart handles in the grocery store. The demand for protective gear is high, but weeks into our nationwide epidemic there are very few of these items available.

Scammers are taking advantage of this shortage to either price gouge customers or take their money and run. In some cases, scammers are impersonating legitimate medical supply companies to take orders for trusted equipment only to disappear when the payment goes through. If the promised product even arrives, it may be counterfeit.

To make matters worse, these scammers may also be using their bogus online stores to steal customers’ payment and personal information.

To suss out phishing websites, check out our recommendations right here. And if the site you’re looking at is brand new to you, be very wary. When so many retail giants, like Amazon, don’t have any masks available, why would some little retailer you’ve never heard of have an abundance? Be sure to investigate the history of the site and see if you can find any online reviews for it.

Spotting scam sellers from real sellers—especially on sites like Amazon with individual sellers—can be difficult. Our only recommendation here would be to avoid sites like this entirely. Only trust reputable dealers’ websites.

And if a seller is offering masks for exorbitant prices, don’t purchase them. Even if the product is real (and unreasonable pricing is a good indication it’s not), we shouldn’t be buying from carpetbaggers whose practices have had a large hand in the mask shortages we’re seeing now. Many of these sellers bought these materials in bulk for the purpose of reselling at much higher prices once demand was up and supply was down.

The good news is most of us regular people don’t need a surgical quality mask. We SHOULD all be staying home as much as possible. But for essential trips in public, the CDC has recommended cloth protective masks we can all make at home with materials we have on-hand. Don’t risk losing to a scammer—make your mask at home and save your money.

Social Security Suspension

Our buddy, our pal. For several years, the Social Security benefit scam has undoubtedly been the biggest money-maker for scammers, so it’s no surprise they’ve adapted it for the Year of the Coronavirus.

We’ve talked about how this scam works a lot, so we’ll keep this one brief:

This virus situation has absolutely no bearing on whether or not you receive your benefits. And that goes for Medicare, too. Employees from these agencies rarely reach out to people by phone, so you should be suspicious anyway. But if they’re discussing your benefits and coverage in any context relating to Coronavirus? Hang up.

Fake Charities

There are so many selfless people and organizations doing what they can to provide relief during quarantine. Whether it’s a nonprofit or an individual crowd-sourcing donations for those having a hard time getting by right now, these are people genuinely using their fundraising talents for the common good. A lot of people would be desperately in need without them.

But it takes an amateur level of know-how and maybe a couple hours of work to start a peer-to-peer fundraiser or build a website. With a little more skill, you can have professional logos, letterhead, contact forms, and even a functioning phone number. As long as your victims don’t think to investigate the person they’re giving money to, it is disturbingly easy to materialize a charity out of thin air and start raking in cash.

We all want to feel like we’re pulling our weight and doing what we can to help others. Most of us are limited in our capacity to meaningfully help in this situation. We will try to use our wallets to help healthcare workers needing supplies or those in financial trouble due to job loss. And there is nothing wrong with that.

But do be incredibly critical of anyone asking you for money for their COVID-19 fundraisers. Dig up any information you can about their history and nonprofit registration status in your state. And don’t let anyone aggressively pressure you into giving them money on the spot. If you aren’t sure? Don’t give.

Home Buglaries

This is probably the scariest con to come out of the pandemic. It seems like a horror movie setup, but cases have been confirmed in Illinois, Ohio, and Florida: criminals are dressing up like healthcare workers, gaining access to homes, and robbing the occupants.

Thieves, posing as CDC or Red Cross representatives in lab coats and masks, go door-to-door claiming to need to give vital healthcare information. Once inside, these “CDC” workers either burglarize the home by force or use distraction techniques to steal right under the noses of victims.

There’s no ifs, ands, or buts about this one. Don’t let people you don’t know into your home. In no state are legitimate medical professionals going door-to-door to tell anyone anything. This scam has the potential to escalate into a far more dangerous situation than a simple robbery. It doesn’t matter what these people say. If the person on the other side of the peephole looks like they’re trying too hard to look like a doctor? Don’t even open the door.

Right now, Coronavirus scams are everywhere. All we can say is be very mindful of any transaction or communication you have regarding this pandemic. These scams are using all methods of communication and contact and their setups are pretty diverse.

We can’t stress enough how important it is to report any and all interactions you suspect are unscrupulous. We are all very vulnerable to predators in this environment. Every scam reported is a victim who might be saved from a grift or something much worse.

The FTC and FBI are working with the public to handle COVID-19 scammers, but they need us all to make the reports so they can chase these people down.

Be on the lookout for COVID-19 stimulus scammers

At this point we can safely say there’s no limit to the situations these people will exploit to make a buck.

With the announcement and passage of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Safety Act (CARES) Act, it was only a matter of time before financial predators launched their newest attack on the public: tricking Americans waiting for their rebate checks out of their personal information.

While the CARES Act is a comprehensive stimulus package, the provision of most concern to the American public is that which issues every citizen a direct relief payment. In an effort to bring some measure of security to those affected by lay-offs, furloughs, and closures, the CARES Act directs the Treasury to issue all Americans with a Social Security number a $1,200 payment (the actual amount will vary depending on income and dependents).

In the chaos of this bill’s rapid-speed passage, a dizzying news cycle, and the general confusion of our new normal, a lot of people have no idea when or how these payments will be made. Those who have filed 2018 or 2019 tax returns understand their checks will be automatically issued by the IRS based on their last return.

But what about those who DON’T file tax returns? This group is largely—if not mostly—composed of seniors and retirees. These are people who don’t make enough income in a year to need to file tax returns.

By now we know this group will need to file some kind of abbreviated return for which they will receive a Form 1099 from the IRS. The Social Security Administration and IRS have been directed by the CARES Act to engage in a public outreach campaign to get this information and filing instructions to the general public.

Unfortunately, it takes time for federal agencies to really get public outreach programs going. And in that time scammers have proven yet again they are far faster than the federal government at reaching everyday citizens.

Pivoting from their usual Social Security racket, scammers are now using their tried-and-true SSA impersonation strategies on those waiting for their stimulus checks.

In just a matter of days scammers have already come up with half a dozen ways to use imminent stimulus payments to talk victims out of their identities:

  • Mailing fake stimulus checks (“Please go to X website or call Y number to confirm your identity and that you’ve received your payment.”)
  • Scam calls, social media messages, and emails asking for verification of personal details (“Please verify your identity so we can send you your check.”)
  • Scam calls, social media messages, and emails asking for credit card information (“You will need to pay a small processing fee so we can send you your payment.”)
  • Scam calls, social media messages, and emails asking for your Social Security number (“We will need your SSN so we can deposit your payment.”)

While the method of contact and the reasoning behind the contact will vary, the end goal will be the same in all cases: someone is trying to get your name, address, birth date, credit card information, or Social Security number in order to steal your identity.

This is the exact same scam as the Social Security Administration scam. The person who contacts you will most likely try to fraudulently impersonate an employee or representative of the SSA or IRS. In the case of calls, they may try to spoof a legitimate SSA office number. In the case of direct messages, emails, or mailers, they may use the actual logos and branding materials of the SSA or IRS to make you think the communication is legitimate.

However these scammers attempt to ensnare you in the coming weeks, we recommend that you follow our guidelines in sniffing out any Social Security benefit scammer to protect yourself:

  • Above all, know that these relief payments DO NOT REQUIRE ANY KIND OF PAYMENT ON YOUR PART. This is a service being done by the Treasury to Americans in need. Think about it: what kind of sense does it make to mail financial relief payments to people and ask for payment in order to receive them? It doesn’t. Do not fall for this nonsense.
  • The SSA and the IRS already knows who you are. They have your SSN. They have your name. They have your address. It’s the Social Security Administration for crying out loud—why would the SSA need you to verify your SSN?
  • Even if these agencies would need you to verify certain details, they have said time and time again that they will NOT contact you by phone, email, or direct message to ask for them. As it pertains to the SSA, it will only call you if you have previously scheduled a phone appointment with them. Federal agencies simply DO NOT do business this way—especially when it comes to passing extremely sensitive information back and forth.
  • Scammers rely on the timidity, openness, and trusting nature of their victims to pull these schemes off. No matter how intimidating, convincing, or aggressive these people may get, you never have to fork your information over blind. You have the right to verify who you are talking to before you give anyone your information. If there is any question in your mind whatsoever, hang up or ignore the mailer or digital contact and call the SSA or the IRS to confirm the validity of the contact. Don’t give anyone your bank or Social Security information without contacting these agencies directly.
  • Trust no websites any emails or direct messages may send you to. Trust no phone number a “Social Security representative” may call you from. These are widely and easily faked.

If you receive contact like this over the coming days, we strongly encourage you to help others by doing what you can to put a stop to these vultures.

The Treasury is directing Americans to use the FBI’s online complaint portal to report any communication you receive that you suspect is from a stimulus scammer.

The FTC has also set up a direct link to their scam complaint system for further reporting on COVID-19-related scams (this could also be used to report scams having to do with “miracle” cures and Coronavirus testing or medical equipment—sadly, these are also happening).

Please share these reporting resources with your friends and family. All financial predation is vile, but under our current circumstances, these scams are particularly disgusting. These scammers are taking advantage of those who, by no fault of their own, have fallen on hard times. They are spitting in the faces of hundreds of thousands of people who are sick or mourning the loss of loved ones, and millions more who are terrified they’ll end up in the same situation.

These scammers belong in jail. Report them.

Old scam, new packaging: genetic testing scam offers free medical screening in exchange for your identity

Say what you will, but identity thieves are nothing if not creative.

But behind their ever-evolving scare tactics and too-good-to-be-true giveaways and opportunities hides the exact same scam: convince the victim to hand over their Social Security number and banking information.

The newest iteration of this con is making headlines across the country.  It’s occurring both by phone and in person, with scammers even having the audacity to make their pitches in local seniors centers.

It’s being called the “genetic testing” or “DNA testing” scam. Similar to the medical equipment offers we discussed last year, the genetic testing scam promises seniors Medicare-covered genetic screening to identify serious health risks.  

All you’d have to do is use their 100% free at-home DNA swab kit, package it up, and send it back to the agency along with your Medicare information, your personal information, your Social Security number, and your bank information.

…See where this is going?

The truth is this is nothing but fresh paint on a falling down house.  Preying on seniors and their health concerns, genetic testing scammers dangle the hope of preventing life-threatening illness over their victims’ heads with no intention of doing anything but stealing their identities.

This scam is springing up nationwide.  Seniors report both being contacted by phone and encountering these creeps collecting information in places seniors spend time. 

If you should also run into someone making a “free” genetic testing pitch to Medicare recipients, just follow these simple rules to avoid becoming their next victim:

  • As with all medication, medical equipment, and medical testing offers, you should only be discussing these things with your doctor.  Should you need anything of a medical nature, your trusted physician will be the one to order it or point you in the right direction.  Don’t trust anyone making you any medical offers that you or your doctor haven’t solicited.
  • DO NOT give ANYONE your Social Security number, banking information, or personal information except those that absolutely need it.  Especially if it is solicited by phone or by an unknown person or organization.
  • Protect those around you by reporting these calls and solicitations to the appropriate agency

If you receive one of these calls or are encountered by someone pitching a free genetic test to you, do not engage them.  These people are charismatic and extremely convincing.  Any attempt to argue or confront them could open a door for them to ensnare you in their scam.   Hang up the phone or walk away.  It’s not rude.  It’s not wrong.  You don’t owe any type of courtesy or conversation to someone trying to take advantage of you. 

Senior scams contributing to suicide among older adults

According to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide rates among the elderly have increased by over 30% since 1999.

Some of the biggest increases in suicide rates have occurred in the Midwest and Northeast, in states like Kansas, the Dakotas, Minnesota, Vermont and New Hampshire.

While the CDC states there is no definitive cause for these increases, they have identified a pattern of stressors and life events that contribute heavily to many of these cases. Several of these stressors have to do with economic and housing instability, immediate crises, legal trouble, relationship problems, and health challenges.

These are problems that impact everyone, but the implications for seniors are often far greater than with other age groups.  Seniors are extremely vulnerable in all of these areas, and in many cases, they are far less likely to bounce back from a major emotional or financial blow.

These are exactly the types of blows scammers are delivering to seniors each and every day.

The same anxieties the CDC identifies as major factors in the growing amount of self-harm and suicide cases in the United States are the tools scammers use to hook and completely destroy their victims.

They create relationship stress with dating scams.  They create fake family crises with grandparent scams.  They threaten legal action with IRS tax scams.  They promise miracle cures and treatments through medical scams.  And ultimately, they drain the savings of the financially vulnerable and create very real economic hardship for people who do not have the means to replace what was lost.

In the end, the fear, anxiety, and guilt victims feel when they realize what has happened is sometimes too much to bear.  In some cases, the victims of senior scams are being driven to death.

The consequences of senior financial scams in reality are far more serious than stolen savings. When many seniors live in social isolation, struggle with illness and depression, and largely blame themselves for the actions of predators, we’re talking about a problem that is truly life-threatening.

And the problem is far from uniquely American.  Seniors all over the world are falling prey to scam calls and wire transfer scams.  In Japan, several seniors have killed themselves after being victimized by a scammer.

It is important to remember, both as a potential victim or someone who may one day witness someone get taken in by a scammer, that it is NEVER a victim’s fault when someone lies and steals from them. The ONLY one who has to answer for exploitation is the exploiter.

It is not your fault.

While reporting and regaining what was stolen may seem paramount, your first and immediate priority should always be assuring the health of the affected.  Senior scams leave victims feeling embarrassed, alone, unsafe, unstable, and guilty.

If you or someone you love is taken advantage of by a senior scammer, please consider counseling, visiting a primary care physician, or locating a senior support group in your area. Get to know the warning signs of suicide and depression, and take immediate treatment action if you recognize them.

If you are in immediate distress and need emotional support, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org to chat with trained staff who CAN help you.

Brace yourself: popular health scam promises free medical equipment and fraudulently bills your Medicare

It can happen a few different ways: you might be contacted via a phone call, you might receive a notice or postcard in the mail, or you may choose to contact the individual yourself after seeing an ad in your local circular or newspaper.

And the person you end up speaking to won’t always have the exact same story. Sometimes he’ll be a Medicare representative. Sometimes he’ll say he’s an employee of a medical device manufacturer or supplier. He might even tell you he was referred to you directly by your personal physician.

But though the contact method and back story is variable, what’s definitely going to happen when you start going back and forth with this scammer is he’s going to recommend you take him up on an excellent medical equipment offer.

Has your back troubled you recently? Do you have aches in your knees at all? Well, a brand new back or knee brace might be just the thing to improve your stability and ease your pain in these areas.

And since this equipment is 100% covered by Medicare, you won’t have to come out-of-pocket at all if you’re a Medicare beneficiary.

…So are you currently receiving Medicare? Can I have your card number?

The problem with this scam isn’t that your Medicare won’t cover your new back brace–it’s that the “Medicare representative” on the other end of phone isn’t intending on sending it to you.

That’s because once the scammer has the number on your Medicare card and whatever other personal information he might need, he can bill Medicare for your equipment–whether he sends it to you or not.

Often, back brace scammers don’t stop at just billing for a device they never sent.

Not only do they bill Medicare far more than the device’s actual value, but they’ll go on to repeatedly bill Medicare over time for treatments and equipment you never asked for or received.

Medicare scammers can run up tens of thousands of dollars in fraudulent Medicare claims in your name before they’re discovered.

The bottom line is this: when it comes to your medical treatments and therapies, put your trust in your caregivers alone. Only your doctor knows your history and what your needs are as a patient. All of your medical decision-making, including what therapeutic braces or equipment you might need, can and should be done through a trusted medical professional face-to-face.

Keep your Medicare and personal information private at all times. And never respond to ads, calls, mailings, or emails making medical offers or asking for your personal medical information. Direct all concerns and questions you have about your healthcare to your doctor alone.

Isolate, medicate, liquidate: senior “guardians” make millions by keeping seniors in a virtual prison

At face value, senior guardianship is a great concept with the wellbeing of seniors in mind. It’s a legal ruling appointing an individual as guardian for those experiencing physical or cognitive health problems.

This guardian is expected to do everything necessary to assist and maintain a healthy, safe lifestyle for whom he’s appointed to care, including taking care of their physical, mental, medicinal and financial needs. This is strictly meant for situations where an individual is unable to care for herself and would have a better quality of life if someone made decisions on her behalf.

A number of entities can petition the courts for appointment of a senior guardian. The senior herself could request the courts for a guardian or even her spouse, partner, friend, or relative.

There are several advantages that such a system brings. The senior’s children might live too far away to provide regular care. Appointing a guardian would provide constant support that these children may not be able to provide themselves.

Senior guardianship can also provide a secure support system for ad-hoc requirements, of both medical and non-medical nature. With the kind of nuclear family life that we now see, the sheltering umbrella of a house full of aunts and uncles, cousins and siblings is no longer available to many of us. A guardianship for parents who want their independence from children or who stay too far away for the children to be present at all times could be a godsend.

If truly enacted in the best interests of the senior, the guardianship system is a very useful thing that could improve the quality of life for many older Americans.

But the reality of senior guardianship is far from that ideal.

This well-intentioned law is often mercilessly exploited to line the pockets of guardians at the expense of the senior they’ve promised to protect. Most concerning are the requests that come from other agencies–not the individual or their family and friends–petitioning the courts to obtain an order for guardianship.

The crux of the concern is financial misappropriation might be the driving factor in someone taking over senior guardianship. Many seniors manage to save a tidy sum at the time of their retirement, and it’s this nest egg that’s often the target of those who claim to be a care-giving guardian for the senior. These guardians are given almost unlimited rights to make all financial decisions. They can even sell off property and other assets and keep the proceeds.

That is the magnet that attracts these so-called guardians to the frail and elderly. There are countless horror stories about guardians have stripping their wards of dignity, their physical and mental well-being, and their assets, leaving them in a worse state than when they took over guardianship.

When even family members don’t think twice about stabbing a relative in the back to gain financially, how much trust could one place on third parties that they will act only in the best interests of their wards?

And when it comes to determining who is and is not in need of a guardian, courts often rely on the word of “friends,” “family,” and those seeking to gain guardianship of an individual to make a guardianship determination.

At a certain age, a little bit of memory lapse and physical weakness are natural. But what if an unscrupulous agent uses these natural symptoms of aging against us to gain control of our lives, our belongings, and our finances? There have been far too many cases of seniors who have been diagnosed unfit to care for themselves based on the creative interpretation of these symptoms by an enterprising abuser.

So what happens when a predator successfully achieves guardianship over a senior victim?

Summarily handed a court order for guardianship, victims are asked to move at very short notice to places chosen by those guardians. Those places may seem to have several amenities, but they snatch away the independence and self-respect of the seniors placed there.

Their lifestyle is changed to fit in with the guardian’s schedule, their medications may be changed to their detriment, and contact with their children and other family members could be strictly regulated to prevent the victim’s family or loved ones from sniffing out the abuse–and to keep the victim totally dependent on the abuser.

Some of the biggest blows victims receive are on the financial front. The court order allows the guardian to charge their fees from the estates of the wards, allowing bad guardians to make excessive additions to their “fees” and withdrawal unseemly amounts of money from the victim’s estate. They’ve even been known to bill their victims for telephone calls or face-to-face conversations as extra “patient care.” The victim’s assets are often sold off under the guise of taking care of the financial interests of the ward.

Sometimes senior guardianship is a ruse used by family members to wrest control of the victim’s finances. Family disputes have long been a part of our society, and senior guardianship sadly provides the perfect tool for families to settle personal scores or usurp financial control of properties and assets.

Do the family of the ward or the wards themselves have any recourse to correct these wrongs, either legal or otherwise? In theory, yes. But courts generally tend to take the view that the guardian appointment is the last recourse, and any change from that arrangement would be to the detriment of the ward.

So, an appeal usually has the opposite effect, and instead of agreeing to revoke the senior guardian, the courts usually ask the sheriff or a similar authority figure to take steps to ensure that the legal guardian is given all access and cooperation.

Thankfully there are many organizations pooling their resources to fight this often unjust system., involving citizens, activists, and judges working to ensure senior guardianships are not awarded under false pretenses.

But it’s an uphill battle. The guardianship industry is well entrenched, and with so many people involved in the process–judges, advocates, medical practitioners, special care professionals, pathological labs, even law enforcement agencies–there’s a lot of room for abuse and plenty of places for someone with an impactful role in influencing a judge’s decision to drop the ball.

Personal bias, complete misinterpretation of a senior’s behaviors, or a failure to recognize the signs of a potentially exploitative situation can and do occur at every level of diagnosing and determining a person’s need for a guardianship.

The situation can sound hopeless, but all is not lost yet. There are ways this type of abuse can be controlled, if not uprooted altogether. There are three ways to combat guardianship exploitation: judicial activism, proactive documentary awareness, and family support.

Judiciary awareness: A special set of judges are appointed for deciding guardianship cases. These judges get elected to office and are re-elected at the end of their term–and one need not look far for information about how their judges handle cases like these.

It’s the responsibility of each state’s citizens to be aware of who their judges are and what their reputations may be regarding issues of senior guardianship (and any issue, for that matter). Ultimately, these judges are beholden to all of us to exercise their authority in a satisfactory manner.

Should a judge be lacking in their duties to suss out predators and issue fair rulings on matters related to seniors, no one who believes in protecting the rights of seniors should ever be willing to vote for him. Stay involved, stay aware, and be willing to exercise your rights to ensure those charged with making serious decisions for citizens in your state are the right candidates for the job.

Documentary awareness: Several organizations are pushing their senators and judiciary to do away with state laws allowing unlimited rights to senior guardians. But that’s like trying to correct a wrong already done.

There are some things that an individual can choose to do in advance before he may need a senior guardian. That includes several documents that the he can have created prior to the onset of any health problems. A basic will specifying all the assets and how they are to be distributed after death can also contain certain clauses regarding who would be authorized to take financial and other decisions even before death.

There are documents like medical power of attorney, joint ownership of assets, trust funds, and even documents that can safeguard the passwords for important files or for computers and phones. The individual could also enter into a written agreement to co-opt someone whom he trusts to provide supported decision-making for important issues.

Like a medical power of attorney, an agreement could also be entered into to designate a particular person for geriatric care.

But the difference between these documents and the senior guardianship granted by courts is the guardianship is often granted ex-parte (in the absence of the ward), whereas these other documents are initiated by the individual himself, so they can’t be imposed on the individual by a court.

Family support: As with any senior abuse, the whole family should stand united to protect itself against unwanted senior guardianship rulings.

People should be not only visiting their parents often, but must be documented doing so. Records must be created of their visits or by having witnesses while visiting. Any doctor visit for any of the usual age-related problems should be made in the company of children or other relatives, and careful attention must be paid to what the doctor is writing in his diagnosis or prescription.

Any kind of loose talk in front of third parties (like “my Dad really seems to be losing it,” for example) should be avoided–off-the-cuff remarks made in jest have been quoted out of context in guardianship courtrooms to prove that a senior really needs help.

As long as the judges and all the authorities in this vicious cycle continue to turn their heads the other way, seniors will continue to live under the threat of losing their good health, mental peace, and financial freedom to the guardianship industry.

While this lobby seems to have spread its tentacles well and truly around our society, there is light ahead. Awareness of this legal loot is increasing, and people are waking up to the dangers of the senior guardianship system. It’s incumbent on us, who have understood the real face of senior guardianship, to educate others who still labor under the impression of its benefits to older Americans.

Seniors looking to save money on pharmaceuticals may be receiving dangerous counterfeit medicines

In recent years, Big Pharma has come under fire for steadily rising prescription medication prices.

Value-based pricing on medications considered indispensable by health workers and the World Health Organization mean the sky’s the limit on prescription drugs that may in reality cost only a small fraction of the price tag to manufacture.

But how much can a drug-maker charge for a medicine a consumer quite literally can’t live without?

Often, the answer is far more than many of those on a fixed income can sustainably afford–especially as the cost of living rises, COLAs stagnate, and new health concerns pop up with time.

These challenges lead many seniors to seek out vital medications via non-traditional sources promising the same quality product for extremely reasonable prices.

Sadly, it’s often the case these “pharmacies” can offer such amazing deals on brand name prescriptions because what they’re selling contains only a small amount of the active ingredient. Or what they’re selling isn’t the medicine at all.

Welcome to the wide world of counterfeit pharmaceuticals and fake pharmacies. Just search for any medication online and you’re sure to see page after page of online pharmacies offering that medicine for cut-rate pricing.

But according to SafeMedsOnline.org, only 3% of the pharmacies you’ll find online are legitimate.

You may find one of these bogus pharmacies searching around online yourself or they may send you an email advertising a few name brand drugs for incredibly cheap to entice you.

Once you’ve navigated to their site, they may boast their certifications, their licensed pharmacists, access to “international drugs,” or the ability to provide drugs without a prescription or write the prescription via live chat with a doctor.

But all of these “bonuses” should look more like red flags:

  • Certifications? In the U.S., if they aren’t certified by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy? They aren’t certified at all.
  • Licensed pharmacist? What license? And for that matter, many of these “pharmacies” claim to be Canadian. In Canada, it’s illegal for a pharmacist to prescribe a medication to a foreigner. This is something a licensed pharmacist certainly would never do.
  • “International drugs” means drugs the FDA hasn’t approved. These are potentially dangerous and definitely unpredictable. Steer clear.
  • No doctor who wants to keep his license to practice medicine will prescribe medication to a patient he hasn’t examined. Live chat does NOT constitute an exam. Similarly, would you trust a pharmacist who fills prescriptions without the prescription? Probably not.

In reality, this pharmacy is not a pharmacy. The doctors aren’t doctors. And the pharmacist is not a pharmacist. In all likelihood, the drug you’re about to pay for isn’t the drug you think it is.

Counterfeit medicine manufacturers often operate in clandestine and unsterile conditions. The people making the drugs have absolutely no training in biology, chemistry, or healthcare of any kind. Their ingredients may be somewhat like those in the legitimate medication–there might be a fraction of the actual active ingredient in the dupe–or it will be a total knock-off.

In these latter cases, the pill you take can be a total placebo, or worse still, a cocktail of potentially harmful ingredients mixed together by an amateur and prescribed to a patient with absolutely no knowledge of her medical history.

The ramifications can be horrific. Suppose in an effort to be thriftier with her benefits during retirement, someone turns to these pharmacies for crucial heart medication. Weeks after taking what was promised to be a quality medication, her condition worsens. It then turns out later she was taking a fake pill and her heart condition went totally untreated.

The FDA warns of the over 10,000 pharmacies online advertising cheap medicine, just over 9,700 are operating illegally. They’ve officially deemed fake pharmacies and counterfeit drugs a serious health threat:

“Buying medicines from rogue online pharmacies can be risky because they may sell fake, expired, contaminated, not approved by FDA, or otherwise unsafe products that are dangerous to patients,” FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, MD, said.

And the fake pharmaceutical racket is showing zero signs of stopping.

For your own safety, don’t respond to emails and advertisements offering cheap medications online. Always acquire your prescription medications via a trusted healthcare professional after you’ve consulted a doctor face-to-face.

Medicare and prescription drug scammers taking advantage of seniors

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey wants seniors to be on guard for scammers looking to bilk money and personal information from older Americans and Medicare beneficiaries.

The Consumer Resources section of the Mass.gov website sounds the alarm on a variety of scams and identity theft tactics used within the state, but among them is a warning bulletin on Medicare scams acutely targeting senior citizens.

But even if you aren’t a resident of the Bay State, Medicare scams, like many scams affecting seniors, are only increasing across the country, so it’s wise to be on the lookout no matter where you live.

According the Mass.gov site, though these scams come in a few different flavors, most rely heavily on social engineering techniques to convince a victim to provide sensitive information for the purpose of identity theft.

These con-artists will call, mail, or otherwise contact their victims with bogus credentials, phony official documents, and say anything they need to convince the target to give up information–including threatening the target with loss of Medicare benefits if he doesn’t sign up for a drug benefit and promising prizes or money for signing up to some new drug plan.

The problem is those taken in by these scams don’t know Medicare will NEVER call and ask you for your personal information–nor does your enrollment in Medicare prescription benefits affect your other benefits one iota–and they don’t know promising cash and prizes for enrolling in a drug plan is highly illegal.

Just knowing these simple facts, however, could spare the next potential victim from financial heartbreak.

The Attorney General’s official website offers several ways you can spot a Medicare scammer before you’ve been taken for a ride, as well as some of the most common ways Medicare scammers try to take advantage of seniors.

The CDC declares senior financial abuse a public health crisis

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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is known for its fight against major diseases. Now, it’s turning its attention to another public health concern: widespread senior financial abuse.

In a word, the increasing financial abuse of seniors is epidemic–though unlike an outbreak of disease, there isn’t any definitive strategy to contain and eradicate it. Up until now, there hasn’t even been a clear-cut definition of what constitutes senior financial abuse.

But this kind of exploitation ultimately has serious health ramifications for its victims, forcing the CDC to formally declare senior financial abuse a danger to public health:

“The need to address financial fraud and exploitation has not been a traditional area for public health focus, but increasingly, the potentially devastating effect–on physical, mental, and financial well-being–is being recognized. In many cases, exploitation occurs at the hands of family members or caregivers, creating further devastation for the individual being exploited.”

The CDC pays particular attention to seniors experiencing some form of cognitive decline or impairment–these people are heavily at risk for financial abuse at the hands of someone they trust.

Among the far-reaching effects of financial exploitation are:

Emotional and psychological damage: stress, anxiety, depression, insecurity, fear, shame, anger, mistrust, diminished self-value.

Financial damage: a victim can lose the ability to afford his home, medication, adequate nutrition, therapy and medical treatments, and even become unable to afford to hire legal counsel or assistance should he choose to pursue recourse against his abuser.

Physical damage: lack of access to vital health services, good nutrition, and a comfortable home coupled with a constant state of psychological turmoil translate into poor physical health quickly–even young people with these problems can develop serious chronic health problems, putting themselves at risk for heart attacks, stroke, memory-related illness, diabetes, stomach ulcers and digestive disease, high susceptibility to colds, flus, and other viruses, insomnia, and chronic body pain.

In taking the first major steps to define and recognize senior exploitation as a very real health concern, the CDC hopes to begin measuring both its spread and the impact it has on our society, ultimately taking action to put a stop to it.

The CDC joins the effort of medical professionals and watchdog organizations already fighting for stronger regulations holding financial institutions legally accountable when red flags of financial abuse are present, and preventing them from putting their own interests ahead of their senior clients.

But experts say working toward effective fraud monitoring is only half the battle. Families are the first line of defense for their senior members–the most effective layer of protection rests with children and grandchildren who are active in their senior family members’ lives and learn to recognize the warning signs before the exploitation goes further. Judith Shaw, Maine’s securities administrator stresses in a recent Politico article:

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“If my great-grandparents needed something they could turn to my grandparents, or my parents, or my aunts and uncles. Those types of communities are becoming more and more rare. That social isolation contributes to making our population more vulnerable… If I had one wish, it would be that we all call our parents at least as frequently as the scam artists do.”